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Pollinator-Friendly Events Planned in Wiliamstown This Spring
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
01:52AM / Monday, January 15, 2018
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Williamstown resident Bridget Spann tells the Select Board last week about some of the initiatives to encourage practices that help bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A number of public events are planned for this spring to raise awareness of pollinator health.
 
Last May, town meeting adopted a non-binding resolution declaring Williamstown a pollinator-friendly community and encouraging landowners to adopt management practices to protect the bees, butterflies and insects that are critical to the ecosystem and the, specifically, our food supply.
 
Last week, the Select Board heard a presentation from three Williams College students who studied the issue and looked, specifically, at how large landowners like the college, the Clark Art Institute and the town can develop pollinator-friendly landscapes.
 
Select Board member Ann O'Connor and resident Bridget Spann also told the panel about several activities planned to raise awareness of the issue.
 
It starts on March 5 with an evening workshop at the Williamstown Youth Center for homeowners. An organic lawn care specialist will speak from 6:30 to 8 p.m. about how residents can manage their properties without the use of chemicals, like neonicotinoids, that are harmful to pollinators.
 
The same expert will give a more detailed full-day course on March 6 for landscapers, who will be eligible to receive education credits that can be used to maintain their applicator licenses.
 
On a date to be announced, the Bee Friendly Williamstown group plans to screen a film on the issue at Images Cinema.
 
"Once we finally get to spring, we plan some garden tours," O'Connor said. "The Clark Art Institute has jumped on the idea, and their last free family day in May will be pollinator-themed. We are also planning a [June 16] plant sale, a sale of native species.
 
"Outreach efforts include plans to go to local retailers so they can understand the issues around these plants — the ones pre-treated with neonicotinoids versus untreated plants — and hopefully have alternatives for customers who come in that will be in keeping with our pollinator-friendly community resolution."
 
Spann added that the June 16 plant sale at the WYC will include a workshop led by a nursery operator from Cummington.
 
"And WilliNet will be working with students to develop a pollinator-friendly message for the town … during April vacation," Spann said, referring to the town's community access television station. "We're happy to approach the issue from a variety of ways."
 
Williams students Molly Knoedler, Tasha Baranow and Katy Dix took the approach of talking to stakeholders, ranging from town and college officials to operators of the town's two golf courses to a pair of local landscapers, New England Lawn and Garden Care and Countryside Landscape.
 
"Landscaping companies are willing to offer more organic packages, but they're also beholden to what their clients want, and the organic treatments can be more expensive," Knoedler said.
 
Baranow pointed out that while the town overwhelmingly approved the pollinator-friendly resolution in May 2017, landowners still need to be convinced to take steps — like reduced mowing schedules and planting native species — that will help grow the pollinator population.
 
"We wanted to focus on local institutions that hold a lot of influence in the community," Baranow said. "We talked to landowners to discern their land management practices in order to see how that would impact pollinator species.
 
"We wanted to make sure that this project would ultimately raise awareness … and hopefully make steps in terms of changing norms in the cultural aesthetic."
 
Because the researchers recognize their recommended landscaping practices go against the norm, they are emphasizing the benefits to landowners as well as insects, Baranow said.
 
"Shifting toward those practices is less expensive overall," she said. "You spend less on costly inputs like gas and chemicals. It lowers your carbon footprint. It can create pollinator habitats that are aesthetically pleasing.
 
"And there are also clear health benefits. Chemicals [like neonicotinoids] are linked to being potentially detrimental to the health of our most vulnerable populations, like children or pets."
 
The college students asked the town to consider creating demonstration pollinator-friendly habitats at either the Milne Public Library or Field Park at the high-profile intersection of Routes 2 and 7.
 
As part of their research project, they discussed with golf course managers practices that have been shown to be successful in other facilities and have less impact on pollinators.They talked with local schools about education programs and signage to explain pollinator-friendly landscaping on school grounds. And they talked about how the town-owned Spruces property on Main Street can be a terminus in the creation of a "pollinator path" through town.
 
Closer to home for the students, they hope Williams College will be able to convert some undeveloped lawn space into meadows.
 
"There are lots of groups in town interested in becoming involved with this," Baranow said. "Williams College students are gung-ho about creating a new campus habitat plan.
 
"We have a long list of signatures from student petitions to become a bee friendly campus," Knoedler added.
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