It’s mid-July and we are in full summer work mode here in the Counties of Athabasca, Westlock and Barrhead. Summer is the best, it’s when all the planning and preparation done in the long winter months comes to fruition! I’m free of the office (for the most part) and outside, working to make our rural landscape more environmentally friendly.
We kicked off the summer season by launching our new program “Planting for Pollinators”. We had two workshops, one in Barrhead and one in Westlock. At these workshops we build houses for native bees, specifically leaf cutter bees and mason bees. We also distributed native flower seeds. The species selected were chosen for their benefits to bees, their beauty, and their ability to grow in our climate. Most of these flower species are early bloomers (April-June) or late flowering species (August-September) which is when our native bees need a food supply. With the canola all yellowed up there is no shortage of food this time of year! Our bees and agricultural producers work together so with the launch of this program we are hoping farmers help the bees out a little bit by giving them a home, and planting some flowers so they have a food supply during the time that they aren’t out pollinating the crops. Athabasca, don’t worry, you will be getting your pollinator workshop soon! Details will be posted on the H2C Facebook page once the date has been chosen.
We were also busy these last couple of weeks getting ready for the arrival and distribution of the thistle gall flies we ordered last fall. We had released these flies at one site last year, monitored them to see if they survived the winter and were behaving as advertised. They did, so we began selling them to producers. These flies are interesting! They adults lay eggs in the stem of a thistle and the plant, as a defense mechanism, forms a thick woody gall around the hatched larvae to protect itself. This saps nutrients from the thistle, reducing or deforming the flowers and slowing the growth of the plant. What is great about these flies is that they only attack Canada Thistle, they won’t harm any crop species or native plants. When I first started advertising them I got a tonne of questions from concerned individuals about the risk of them becoming invasive. I thought that was great that people were asking that, it showed me that people were aware of mistakes that have been made in the past by introducing invasive species and they knew how damaging they could be to the ecosystem. But there is no risk of these flies becoming a problem. We distributed over 1300 flies to producers and placed 600 flies at trial sites in H2C’s three counties. At these trial sites we will be measuring thistle density to determine rate of control. With biological control it takes a long time to get results, so at a minimum this will be a five year monitoring program. I am expecting to see some reduction at the three year mark. We will continue to sell thistle gall flies to producers this fall. Please contact me if you are interested and would like to be put on the order list.
With the summer also comes the work associated with the “Save a Barn, Save a Bat” program. In the three years since we started the program we have really seen a shift in attitude towards our nocturnal flying friends. I used to get calls from people concerned that the bats they had were going to give them rabies or spread disease. Now I have people clamoring
to put up bat houses and are eager to attract them to their yard. Is it because of all the seminars and educational workshops I’ve put on? Or is it that people really hate mosquitoes? Either way, if it means people want to help bats and want them around I’m happy with the result! I’ve just started doing site visits where I’ve been invited to go out to people’s places and do a habitat survey and collect guano (bat poo) samples for genetic analysis to determine which species is hanging out (literally). We just got our results back from last years site visits. For those who participated in the program last year, keep an eye on the mail to receive your results! These site visits are a great way to interact with local producers. They often lead to me signing them up to do Environmental Farm Plans and telling them about other programs H2C has. Interest in the program is very strong again for this summer! If you are interested in having me come and check out a roost you have please contact me.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’m out of the office most of the summer. That doesn’t mean I’m unavailable to talk! My cell number is 780-674-8069, give me a call or text if you’d like to get in touch. I can also be reached via email at lisa.card@hwy2conservation. I’m checking the H2C Facebook page quite a bit as well, you can find our page by searching “Highway Two Conservation”.
I’m really looking forward to the rest of summer, so much more is going on! Check back for more details in the coming months.