June is National Pollinator Month, and June 20th-26th is National Pollinator Week. But protecting and promoting pollinators – bees, butterflies, birds, and more – isn’t the only thing we have to celebrate in Columbia this month! June 17th marks four years since the passage of Columbia’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP), which outlines our city’s plan to address risks posed by climate change and contribute to international efforts to draw down greenhouse gas emissions.
Pollinators and greenhouse gas emissions may not immediately seem connected. But when pollinators are protected in a community, native plants and wildflowers thrive — and native plants have the potential to sequester carbon in the soil, keeping it from contributing to climate change. The problem? As of 2016, 40% of pollinator species were facing extinction, and without attention, that number will continue to grow. Columbia’s Roadside Pollinator Program works in tandem with the CAAP to both protect pollinators and their habitats as natural resources and to decrease the emissions that feed into climate change impacts like flooding, increased storm frequency, and prolonged dry periods.
A major goal of the CAAP is carbon sequestration and preservation of Columbia’s flora and fauna. Pollinators and the wildflowers that they promote move us towards this goal because of the extensive root systems built by native plants. While traditional grass turf has short roots reaching only inches into the soil, native plants and wildflowers can grow roots over 15 feet deep – and these roots are what locks carbon into the soil and out of the atmosphere.
Comparing Kentucky blue grass (traditional turf) root structure to native plant root structure (swimga.org).
Pollinators also promote diverse and healthy ecosystems, which provide our community with all kinds of benefits. From cleaner air and water, more efficient waste decomposition, better control of diseases, and more beautiful outdoor spaces, our lives are made better when our ecosystems are healthier.
Thriving pollinator habitats also provide a specific benefit to our food systems. About one-third of our food is pollinated by bees, butterflies, mammals, or birds. Without pollinators, our fruits, vegetables, chocolate, coffee, nuts, and spices simply can’t grow – making food less available (and less delicious).
Stormwater Runoff Mitigation
The state of Missouri has hard, compact clay soils that are left relatively unaffected by standard turf. Without native species being reintroduced to our ecosystems, this compact soil can fail to absorb rain and stormwater, which can lead to flooding, loss of healthy topsoil, and even sediment pollution in local waterways. The Roadside Pollinator Program helps address these issues as deeper roots from native wildflowers and grasses create channels for stormwater to follow deep into the soil and stay in place.
In November of 2016, Columbia City Council signed the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayor’s Monarch Pledge. The Pledge states that our city will take action to educate the public on monarch decline and restore native habitat to support pollinators.
Based on habitat and safety potential, the City’s Community Conservationist selected sites on roadsides, medians, and roundabouts around Columbia. These areas will be converted into roadside pollinator zones through installing native vegetation and wildflowers and creating environments that encourage pollinator habitation. Additionally, the program ensures that encroaching invasive plants are kept from growing in the area and protects new native seedlings.
You can see some of the areas the program is currently in place in the image below – or you can look more closely using the interactive map on the program’s webpage.
Want to get involved with National Pollinator Month this June? You can help protect Columbia’s birds, bees, and butterflies by taking part in our Wild Yards Program, which helps integrate native plants into community landscaping (and saves money on your utility bill, too!).
If you’re looking for other ways to get involved with decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting Columbia’s environment, visit our climate Call-To-Action page to find more steps you can take to be a part of our community’s more sustainable future.