11 Laura Taylor – Pollinator Restoration in Soil and Water Conservation Districts (in English)

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Speaker 1: From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is Pollination, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators. I'm your host, Dr. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture. So let's say you are a local government agency and you want to do something to help pollinator health.

Well, that's the focus of today's episode. I'm joined by Laura Taylor with the West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. And she has confronted this problem both in her role as a conservation technician, but also as an educational coordinator with the district. Now she's going to describe a real innovative program that she has to monitor while pollinators around restoration sites that the district has put in place. It's a great episode to think about the nuts and bolts of getting a monitoring project off the ground at the level of a local government agency. It's packed with some really great insights.

I hope you enjoy this episode. I'm so excited to have Laura Taylor here from West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. Hi there. So glad to have you. I know it's a busy time of year, so thanks for joining us. And maybe to begin with, can you just tell us a little bit about West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, its wildlife conservation and education initiatives, and how do wild pollinators fit into the broader scope of the agency? Great.

Speaker 2: So basically our mission is to conserve and protect soil and water resources for people, wildlife and the environment. And we kind of take a holistic approach to this where we're looking at win-win solutions for the viability of rural working lands as well as wildlife habitat.

Okay. And we see education as a crucial piece of this conservation work. So we basically, we try to help people understand how they can help wildlife and natural resources on their property. And because of all the issues that pollinators have had over the last several decades, really, we've definitely included pollinator habitat in a lot of our work with landowners as well as, you know, just trying to educate the general community about them more.

Speaker 1: For some of the listeners who may be not in the Portland area, tell us a little bit about the ecology of West Multnomah. And you know, now that you've, the Soil and Conservation District have taken on pollinators and you've had some experience with it, what do you think are some of the biggest challenges to pollinators in the district? Yeah.

Speaker 2: So, so West Multnomah, we're Multnomah County, but our district is focused west of the Willamah River, which kind of runs right through the Portland area. And our county really encompasses the, you know, West Hills, which people sometimes call the, the Tualatin Mountains.

It's the steep slope facing east and it's very, you know, forested with coniferous forests. And then we have our, the southern part of that area is all, you know, highly urbanized Portland metropolitan area. And then we also get, you know, the entire Soviet Island, which is just north of Portland in a little ways, and is this island, this very big island in the middle of the river. So we kind of get some forest land, some farmland, which is primarily what Soviet Island has, farm and natural areas, and then a lot of urban areas. So, you know, we're kind of dealing with this whole slew of, you know, loss of habitat down in the urban areas, but then also people wanting to reintroduce habitat through their backyard habitats, then, you know, kind of dealing with connectivity issues through those very forested hilly areas and farmland that can really, you know, it can go both ways. Sometimes farms, you know, kind of exclude habitat, but they can also really do great things to support it.

Speaker 1: So it sounds like there's a lot of potential for really building up some great pollinator habitat in the area. You've got these small mixed farms. You've got some intact forest. It sounds like a real opportunity.

Speaker 2: Definitely. Yeah. And and luckily, a lot of the folks who want to work with us really are on board with taking that opportunity and, you know, supporting that habitat.

Speaker 1: I know it's really in the early stages. You're starting to incorporate pollinators and pollinator habitat into a broader, you know, broader program and dealing with things like invasive species. With all of these different priorities in the agency, how does how does it get built into a strategy when the Soiling Water Conservation District is looking to take on pollinators? How does the decision making take place to, you know, bridge them with some of these other priorities? Or maybe some of them are just a natural fit?

Speaker 2: Yeah, it really depends on the landowners. So, you know, every single landowner we work with, they're, you know, they have their own priorities, but we'll help them kind of walk through their land, look at, you know, we might have more of an eye for if something could be an opportunity for pollinator habitat or if it's some other opportunity. We're usually looking at all kinds of opportunities, including, you know, dealing with weeds or just riparian restoration, forest management, soil health, all those kinds of things. So in a lot of these things, they all go together, you know, they all can kind of synergize.

So, you know, just because it's a riparian planting, it doesn't mean it's not going to help pollinators, especially for those first 20 years where we have all these flowering shrubs that are going to be in the sun still before the trees really grow over them. So as far as putting it together in a whole strategy, I think, you know, we kind of just have to be opportunistic in a sense that we try to always include that as a suggestion to landowners if it makes sense. And then, you know, if they are on board, then we just go ahead and through that we try to, you know, link up as many different properties as possible, you know, so creating that connectivity. But then also, I think the other big strategy we have is just really doing a lot of outreach and education and just championing pollinators kind of more of our like urban educational work, just kind of getting it on people's minds.

Speaker 1: I want to just one follow-up question before we take a break. I just want to ask, did you have a sense? I'm new to the areas, listeners know, but I've been really impressed, especially in, you know, the Portland area, how landowners seem to be really conscious of pollinators. Were you before you started going in this direction, were you hearing a lot from landowners with regards to questions as to what to do?

Speaker 2: Hmm, that's a good question. I feel like, you know, I've only been working with the district for two and a half years. So I feel like as long as I've been here, people have definitely been interested, but I'm not so sure before that I have a feeling that, you know, in part because we as a staff started learning about this and started championing it as something we cared about that, that I feel that honestly was part of what's gotten people interested in this lately.

Speaker 1: That's really great. And it's, let's take a break and come back and talk a little bit about some of those resources, because I really do think that's true. I think the resources and activities that you're providing really would catch landowners' imaginations. I think there's some really good stuff going on.

All right, well, welcome back. Laura, I just want to ask you what you know, you just started two years ago and it seems pollinators are now becoming this program in the district. What personally got you interested in pollinators? What was it that sort of drew you to them?

Speaker 2: I mean, I grew up in a biologist family and so we kind of just were always outside looking at things. And I remember even a high school insect collection project where I found a metallic green bee and it kind of blew my mind. Their word green bees and they were so beautiful.

I think that might have been the very first thing that got me excited about it. But then more recently in the last two years, I had a friend who likes making weed and I thought, oh, it would be cool to make weed from honey. I collected myself. So I kind of like started learning about honey bee keeping. Yeah, I never really succeeded in keeping honey bees well enough to gain extra honey. But from there, I got this book attracting native pollinators that's published by the Xerxes Society. That book was it just opened up this whole world for me and I just became so enthralled.

I took it out and in my garden, which has lots of native plants, I would look and see all these different native bees and I just wanted to know more.

Speaker 1: It's such a great book in that it's broken. It's written so well. The chapters are short, but it's comprehensive. It covers everything.

Speaker 2: It does, yeah. And but it's a little bit of a tease for me because as a botanist who wants to know every species, it covers the bees at sort of the level of genre and then I'm like, wait a minute, but there's more. I want to know.

Speaker 1: I totally understand the sentiment. Well, it's interesting. The way that you come to it is through some of these Xerxes educational resources and as you've explained the soil and water conservation districts in Oregon, education is a real big part of their mandate. And I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about a publication that came from West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. It's really terrific. The MetaScaping Handbook. Tell us a little bit about that publication and how people are using it. I find it really great. The designs in it are really great. It just it seems like a very practical book. Yeah.

Speaker 2: So so the MetaScaping Handbook is was developed primarily by one of my colleagues, Mary Logalbo. And she worked with a number of other partners in the region through backyard habitat and the Oak Prairie Restoration Group, many other people. But their their main premise was, you know, what can we do to encourage people to convert their, you know, sort of monoculture lawns into something more diverse that will support, you know, a myriad of wildlife, including, you know, pollinators and beneficial insects. And so that's, I think, how the whole idea got hatched. And it became this huge project for Mary for a while. It was, you know, there was a bit of a community effort. You know, we were all contributing photos and just different ideas. But they really went through a process of testing these methods before they recommended them.

Speaker 1: So it was really a learning process, even to just develop their recommendations. It really shows because it does it looks the way it's laid out. You just feel that you've got a set of tools in front of you that are really kind of thought out. Yeah.

Speaker 2: And it's very step by step and practical, but also beautiful. So it's it's really handy and it's inspired me actually to try this out in my own yard.

Speaker 1: Are there other educational programs that you've got going on or planned for pollinators?

Speaker 2: So let's see. That's a big one. And the main other one we have going other than just, you know, giving talks about it or some of our events is our pollinator monitoring program. So our pollinator monitoring citizen science program, it sounds like, you know, this really geeky data collection thing, but it's actually the main inspiration for it was the educational benefit it would have for people.

Speaker 1: Well, tell us a little bit of this is really exciting. And I we've talked about this before and it's coming into the second year. Can you tell us when you started it in the first year, what were your goals apart from what or was the goal to introduce people to bees or just tell us a little bit about your first year and sort of what you had in mind? Yeah.

Speaker 2: So so how it started was, you know, I inherited this education program from my predecessor. And she had been doing some work with the Xerces society and landowners and, you know, kind of had a part of the education budget designated to pollinator projects and citizen science. And I discovered this, you know, monitoring guide that the Xerces society had developed and just got to looking at it and thinking about what this monitoring could teach other people and ourselves if we got, you know, good information from it.

And, you know, kind of had that like budget line hanging over my head, too. Like, I got to do something in this new position, you know, I've got a perform on this. So I just started building up that the project from there basically started by reaching out to Xerces and seeing if they would be interested in training volunteers for us. And they said yes. So then I started recruiting volunteers. And our idea was to have them go monitor these pollinator have to have projects that we've helped landowners install to get, you know, basically pollinator diversity data, abundance, and association with the plants that they're on. And we, you know, because we're sending these volunteers out to landowners properties, we really wanted to be thoughtful in how we recruited them. We didn't just want any random person at first because we didn't know how this would work.

So we started by just really reaching out to some of our board members and associate board members. Yeah. And, you know, they're usually pretty enthusiastic about, you know, some of them are very enthusiastic about pollinators already. So that was an easy sell. And then they have on to some of their other like volunteer friends. And that was kind of how we started the first cohort.

Speaker 1: That seems like a really great robust strategy. I mean, the temptation is to kind of go all out, but there's a way in which it is a kind of complicated new skill set for people. And it just seems like a really kind of if one was going to take this on, it seems like such a really great way to feel out things. Was that sort of your what you had in mind when you started is kind of like keep it manageable?

Speaker 2: Yeah, I mean, I definitely I wanted to keep it manageable because there's definitely a little risk involved with a project is complicated. So yeah, just keeping it simple and testing how it would do with under more controlled circumstances before we just sent this out into the wind.

But the training can only really hold 15 people. So that was a really... I was worried, I know that people are very excited about this. So I imagined sending a big recruitment letter out into the world and just getting buried in an avalanche of responses. How do I deal with that? So yeah.

Speaker 1: Well, I suppose the other point that you were describing to me previously was just, you're coming onto landowners' properties and just sort of seeing how the dynamic of that works out. Imagine that's a consideration.

Speaker 2: Yeah, we wanted to make sure that we maintained their trust because that is the tantamount... For us, we definitely don't wanna ruin that for them. So we wanted to make sure that the people we included were folks that we trusted to uphold that.

Speaker 1: Can you tell us a little bit about what the training's like? If somebody else wanted to take this on and thinking of reaching out to the Xerces society, how long does it take to take somebody who's not familiar with bees and get them to the point where they can identify things?

Speaker 2: Yeah, so it's an amazing training. The training is encompassed by one full day training that they offer and they really start simple and basic. Just what is an insect? What are the parts? What is a bee versus a fly versus a wasp? How to tell a true bug from a beetle? Just really key things you would look for and not getting into jargon, entomologist jargon, just really on the actual structures.

And then the next part is really getting into differentiating those morpho groups of bees. So it's not really even a genre exactly. It's just kind of general morpho groups. Some of them are taxonomically accurate, like bumblebees or honeybees and others are kind of more like a tiny dark bee.

Speaker 1: Right, which could encompass a number of species or genera, but they could also, it does give you a sense of if you're in a landscape and you're only seeing one of those groups as opposed to all of them, it must give you some sense of diversity.

Speaker 2: Exactly, yeah. And they base this whole method on a study out of California, I believe, where they compared this method where you're just doing morpho groups to actual entomological study where they did traps and everything and they've just found a very strong correlation between diversity found one way versus the other. And so yeah, it's a diversity metric. It doesn't give you every single species, but it definitely gives you a pretty strong indication of the diversity.

Speaker 1: So your volunteers experience, did they feel pretty confident? Did it take a couple days out in the field before, how long did it take before people felt, and I'm sure there's a range, there are people who picked it up right away and people who are still having some difficulty, but what was your experience in that first year?

Speaker 2: That's a great point, yeah, some people seem to get it a lot quicker, but others were definitely, even after that full day of training, they felt like they could tell the difference between a honeybee and a bumblebee and a native bee, but they were still very hesitant to call it any more specifically than that. And this protocol, it's open to that, you can just be as general as you feel comfortable with, but of course I kind of wanted to encourage people, just get to as close as you can, but is it green, is it not? I mean, that tells you something, how big it is, that tells you something, and people, I feel like after maybe their first visit, or maybe halfway into their second visit, it really started to feel confident enough, I think, and I think people also just started looking in their free time all the time.

Speaker 1: Oh yeah, I imagine, eh, after you've unleashed that.

Speaker 2: You always are looking, I am anyway. So tell us what were some of the, I imagine it was a real, it was a pilot and preliminary, but what did you learn in that first year? What were some of the things that sort of, did anything pop out in terms of the different restorations?

Speaker 2: So there were just on so many different levels, it was so instructive. One, our education goals, I think were way surpassed, because people were so excited, they just, they got so interested in bees and other pollinators, you know, people wanted to get down to species with their bumblebees, and they were all cooing over pictures of cute little dees that they'd taken.

And so it was just, that, I feel like, was really rewarding to see and exciting. Another thing I learned, at least these first couple years, is that there definitely hasn't been a time savings or money savings as far as, if I just did all this monitoring myself versus volunteers, but there was so much retention of volunteers from one year to the next, at least this first year, that I feel like next year, because we've kind of reached our limit of how many sites and volunteers we can accommodate. I think if there's good retention next year, we might be able to really save on all the logistics of pairing volunteers with landowners and getting the training set up. So it could potentially save me time and money over the long term, but so far, it's taken me just as much time to coordinate all of this as if I just did all the monitoring myself. Yeah.

Although I can spend that time in the winter versus in the summer when I'm busy doing other things and probably wouldn't have time for this anyway. So there's that. And then the last cool thing I learned, well, we noticed so many bees on weed flowers and a lot of weeds were blooming after most of our native shrubs had finished blooming for the year. So we kind of appreciate the value of weeds a little more and also just in general, you know, forbs. And if we could get native herbaceous plants into more of our plantings, I think, we've learned that could be very valuable. And we have forbs in some and not in others. And there was just a huge difference in how many pollinators in the diversity we saw between those two groups.

Speaker 1: That's really interesting. And I just wonder, so there is, if I hear you right, the key feature is that later into the season, like are we talking June or into July or are you talking August? There's like a shoulder when the bees are still out, but they're hitting a lack of flowers. Is that right?

Speaker 2: Yes, and that came very early last year. Oh, right. It was just such a dry, hot summer. And our training didn't happen until the early June. So we only had June, July and August for our volunteers to be out. And unfortunately, they were out there and none of our plantings were blooming anymore. So they were really mostly noticing the bees on and other pollinators on little weedy dandelions and whatever could survive in that hot dry summer.

Speaker 1: What a great insight in one year.

Speaker 2: I know, yeah. That's awesome. Yeah, about two thirds of the species of flowers we saw being pollinated were non-native.

Speaker 1: I think that really does provide some great insight on how to focus restoration, where those gaps are. That's really great. So tell us, you're moving forward. Tell us what you have planned for this year. Are you changing anything up? Is there sort of a different focus or are you just gonna keep it the way you have been doing in the first year?

Speaker 2: Yeah, so it's going to be mostly the same except that because we had practically every volunteer from last year want to keep doing it this year, we started, luckily we were able to get some monitoring going really early this year instead of having to wait till June. So all of our returning volunteers are going back out and they started in April and they're gonna be getting April, May and June data as well as later into the summer.

Oh, great. Yeah, but that meant that now I'm kind of coordinating two cohorts of volunteers and providing an additional training because we did a whole refresher training at the beginning of the year. So it's added to the workload, but we'll get more out of it. But it's definitely more complex.

Speaker 1: Do you think it's possible as people become competent that they can do the training themselves? Do you think there's that kind of transmissibility?

Speaker 2: You mean like one volunteer training and another?

Speaker 1: Yeah, I'm just kind of curious because it seems like a model where you have, I was thinking about things like the Master Gardener, for example, where you do have, people get together for central trainings and then they would go out into their communities and they have the capacity to train. I just, I've never actually trained somebody to do this, this methodology. So I'm kind of curious is how complicated do you think the training is?

Speaker 2: That's a great question. And I feel like I personally feel like I could probably provide this training to new people and to do a good job, maybe not as quite as good as the Xerxes Society, but I've got the gist of it. I think a lot of it though, so much depends on having good pin specimens to practice on. That's a big part of our training.

So not just going out in the field and pointing to something as it's flying off person, like that was that, that's really hard. So we start off with pin specimens and work through identifying those to different levels. And I think that if you provided people with this toolkit, like those specimens and the monitoring protocol, they could do pretty well, but it's hard. I think it was hard for me to realize how difficult this would be for people to grasp just because I've been trained in identification for so long. And even though it was a different group of organisms, I just had those skills. You're right. Identifying specific little things and keeping it all in my brain.

Speaker 1: But for people who've never kind of done any kind of biological sorting, it must be a whole new world that they have to learn.

Speaker 2: It is, yeah, just keeping it all in their brain, like what are all these different things I'm trying to remember for all these groups? Overwhelming, you know, people were definitely kind of overwhelmed at first.

Speaker 1: All right, well, let's take another break and then we'll come back and I want to ask you some questions that we asked all our guests of what's on their bookshelf and tools that they've accumulated. All right, we're back and we end our show all the time with the same three questions for our guests.

And I'm really curious what your answers are going to be. And to the first question we have is books. Books that either inspire you, you really want people to know about, they're really good resources. What's your pollinator book?

Speaker 2: Well, I think I already spilled the beans on with this one, but it's that Dersu Society Attracting Native Pollinators book. Just beautiful photos, lots of good info, really fun.

Speaker 1: You're not the first person to recommend it on the show. Yeah. It's really good too. I mean, it's not a big volume, but it feels big. Like it has a lot of stuff in it.

Speaker 2: It's so dense, yeah. But not in a bad way, just in a, like, yeah, for a smallish book there's so much value there.

Speaker 1: So we've talked a lot about this today and maybe it's just a chance to kind of circle back a bit, but is there a tool that you find that's essential for studying pollinators? Is there something in the kind of work that you're doing here that you've embarked on last year and starting this year? What's like a really key tool that people should think about?

Speaker 2: You know, I've been pretty low tech lately in the sense I don't use a whole lot of physical tools. My favorite one honestly is my phone, the camera on my phone, even though it's, I mean, it's not the greatest for taking pictures of little bees, but I, every time I see something, I'll get it out and start trying to take pictures because then I can study the pictures a little bit longer than the bee would actually be there. And so yeah, just my phone and some keen eyesight is really what I've got.

Speaker 1: Well, you know, eyesight is one of the common answers to this question, but phone isn't. And maybe can you tell us a little bit about tricks of using your phone to take pictures because I know a lot of these things are just so quick, you're there and you don't even put a shadow on them and they're off.

Speaker 2: So what? Oh yeah, so true. So I don't know, it's sort of like a safari for me. I hunch down and I stay really still and then I just wait, I'll bugger around and try to just take like a gazillion photos and maybe like three of them will be okay. Sometimes it's frustrating and I wish I had a really awesome camera, but so far, yeah, just my phone cameras.

Speaker 1: No, that's good to hear because, you know, when people see the, you know, you're on Facebook and I have lots of friends who are bee people and they take a picture, it seems so effortless, but I was just reading, I know this bee's in your backyard and there's this description, one of the little boxes there about taking a picture of Pertedam Minima. And apparently the biologist was on her belly for hours and had to crawl to the water bottle afterwards because she was dehydrated just to get the picture. Wow.

These are hard things to do. So I'm glad that you answered it that way. And so the last question is, is there a pollinator species or family or group that when it flies by, you really are excited?

Speaker 2: Oh yeah, I mean, it's hard to choose one. But I feel like that the little green sweatbees, those metallic agate posthumous bees.

Speaker 1: Yeah, the agapossumon, they're just, I love green. So they kind of just got me right there.

Speaker 1: Oh, and it's great because that's how you answered your question about how you got interested. Yeah, they were the first one. Naturally. Another popular answer that I have to say, everybody loves them.

Speaker 2: There's, so just second place real quick is there's this crazy like tiger eye iridescent, well, we call them hairy, what, hairy leg bees? Yeah. Chappelike bees, that's our little name for them. But yeah, that one's amazing too. It's like tiger eye stripes, iridescent golden fur.

Speaker 1: I don't know what it's called. Do you happen to have a picture on your phone?

Speaker 2: Probably, or maybe not on my phone, but somewhere.

Speaker 1: If after the show, if you send us a picture, I'll share it on the show notes so our listeners can take a look. Yeah, sounds good. All right, well, it's a real pleasure speaking with you today. You too. Good luck monitoring out there this summer.

Indeed, that'll be fun. Thanks so much for listening. Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oregonstate.edu. We'd also love to hear from you and there are several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode-specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that could be featured in a future episode. You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally, you can tweet questions or comments or join our Facebook or Instagram communities. Just look us up at OSU Pollinator Health. If you like the show, consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating.

It makes us more visible, which helps others discover pollination. See you next week.

Laura Taylor works for the West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. In this episode, find what happens when a local government wants to do something to help pollinator health.

As a conservation technician and an educational coordinator, Laura created an innovative program to monitor wild pollinators around restoration sites.

Learn how she got the monitoring program off the ground, what you can do for landowners wanting to help create pollinator habitats, and how they teach people to identify pollinators.

You can Subscribe and Listen to PolliNation on Apple Podcasts.

And be sure to leave us a Rating and Review!

“What can we do to encourage people to convert their monoculture lawns into something more diverse that will support a myriad of wildlife including pollinators and beneficial insects?” – Laura Taylor

Show Notes:

  • How wild pollinators fit into the mission of the West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Some of the biggest challenges to pollinators in this area
  • How they work with land owners to set priorities for conservation and pollinator habitat
  • What initially drew her interest in pollinators
  • How they build their Meadowscaping Handbook
  • How their pollinator monitoring program works
  • What the program does to educate landowners
  • How long it takes to teach someone to be able to identify insects and bees
  • What they learned from teaching people about bees in the first year of their program
  • What the future holds for the pollinator monitoring program

“Our pollinator monitoring, citizen science program sounds like a data collection program, but the main inspiration for it was the education benefit it would have for participants.” – Laura Taylor

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