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Utah Pollinator Habitat Program providing plants to conservation-minded locals

By Ryan Aston - | Feb 26, 2024

Photo supplied, Maya Pendleton/Ogden Nature Center

In this undated photo, a monarch caterpillar gathers food from a milkweed plant at Ogden Nature Center.

A program aiming to expand and enrich the habitat for Utah’s natural pollinators is looking to get native plants into the yards and gardens of conservation-minded locals once again.

The Utah Pollinator Habitat Program, a third-year pilot program from the state’s Department of Agriculture and Food, will be accepting applications from individuals and organizations interested in receiving free plant kits for their properties from March 1 through April 15.

Seeds are collected throughout the state, including from wetland habitats and upland habitats. The program then works with local greenhouses to grow the plants, after which plant kits are distributed to successful program applicants.

“Over the past few years, there has been a lot more attention being paid to the fact that we are losing a lot of our pollinators due to loss of natural pollinator habitat,” Maya Pendleton, Ogden Nature Center’s conservation director, told the Standard-Examiner.

“As we continue to build places or people landscape with nonnative flowers and ornamental flowers, a lot of the species that pollinators rely on are kind of disappearing.”

Pollinators play a key role in the production of specialty food crops — i.e., fruits and vegetables, tree nuts and seeds.

Since the launch of the pollinator habitat program, Ogden Nature Center has received more than 600 plants, which were planted on-site with the aid of volunteers. But the program isn’t only targeting larger operations.

There’s a space requirement of 900-plus square feet for consideration and a minimum of three kits (the number designated for 900 square feet) to be awarded per project. Beyond that, though — as well as a mandatory three-year followup period and irrigation requirements — the application process is open to anyone.

Utah has a diverse array of pollinators, ranging from its more than 900 bee species to butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, beetles, flies and more, and there are no better plant species to sustain them than the ones that originally allowed them to survive and thrive.

“Native plants just do a whole lot better at providing resources to native wildlife, which makes sense,” Pendleton said. “These types of wildlife, these pollinators, they’ve been evolving and adapting with these plants for a really long time. Non-native species, some of them can still provide food sources, but it’s really not enough and it’s not as high quality.”

Those plants can still produce nectar and more for pollinators, but if they don’t produce similarly to native plants, or non-native creatures like honeybees — which are native to Afro-Eurasia — take those resources, less is left for Utah’s natural pollinators.

Pendleton made special note of migratory monarch butterflies, which have seen a reduction in numbers across the region due to factors including climate change, the increased use of pesticides and herbicides, disease and habitat loss.

“They need a lot of food to be able to make that migration,” she said.

While visitors of the Ogden Nature Center can see the program in action there, Pendleton hopes that people also will be inspired to make their own contributions to the cause of helping native pollinators.

“We’re encouraging them to start doing these types of things in their own homes, in their own interest, as well,” she said.

Those interested in applying for the Utah Pollinator Habitat Program can visit https://ag.utah.gov/pollinator-habitat-program for more information.


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