The Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) is working with eight towns to establish a Regional Pollinator Habitat Action Plan, the first of its kind in the state, to encourage towns to think about pollinators as they consider municipal infrastructure projects.
Those eight Pollinator Corridor Towns — Greenfield, Heath, Shelburne, Conway, Bernardston, Montague, Wendell and Orange — are working with FRCOG to create pollinator habitat and resource maps and identify areas to create and expand habitat connectivity, so that planners can understand where gaps and habitat fragmentation exist and can help identify potential pollinator “stepping stones,” according to FRCOG Land Use and Natural Resources Program Manager Kimberly Noake MacPhee.
They are also developing language that towns can use to update land-use regulations, which could lead to amending zoning bylaws and subdivision regulations, she said, such as adding requirements for native plantings and pollinator-friendly landscape management. The group will also create a Pollinator Habitat Corridor Implementation Toolkit, so that once funding is secured for other towns, they can join the effort.
Planning boards will work with FRCOG to update land use regulations and identify opportunities to integrate pollinator plantings into municipal, agricultural, residential, downtown, urban residential and agricultural land and into climate resiliency projects, including flood mitigation and riparian buffers.
According to Noake MacPhee, the eight towns recognize that it isn’t enough to simply set land aside, but that local level, community-engaged strategies to create corridors in and around areas of development are critical, and a needed response to declining populations of wild, native pollinators — including bees, birds, butterflies and other insects — is also necessary.
“The sustainability of our local ecosystems, farms and food systems, as well as our own well-being over time, is linked to pollinators,” she explained. “This initiative will engage community and regional stakeholders in identifying opportunities to create and expand pollinator resources in towns and develop long-term stewardship recommendations for proposed pollinator corridors.”
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs planning grant program and the state’s 2019 and 2020 District Local Technical Assistance Program is providing funding for the project. Noake MacPhee said once the first project with the initial eight towns is completed, FRCOG will find funding for other towns.
“This has been several years in the making, of course,” she said. “With any project, first there’s the idea, then the outreach, then the funding and finally, the implementation.”
Nancy Hazard, of Greening Greenfield and retired director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, said she and many others will be working with FRCOG and the towns in their efforts.
“It’s great that FRCOG is moving forward with its pollinator grant,” Hazard said.
The Nolumbeka Project, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of Native American history, is doing some great pollinator activities in several county schools, she said, while Dorothea Sotiros, who sits on the Greening Greenfield board, is taking the lead in at Energy Park in Greenfield.
Hazard also recognized Wisty Rorabacher, Tom Sullivan of Pollinators Now and Nancee Bershoff at the YMCA, who are all taking leadership roles in pollinator gardens throughout Greenfield.
“Wisty is taking the lead on collecting ideas from folks about landscaping for the new library,” Hazard noted.
Franklin County has an abundance of green spaces that improve the flood resiliency of rivers and riparian areas and provide clean water, recreation, wildlife habitat and carbon sequestration, according to Noake MacPhee. Pollinators, she added, are essential for plant reproduction in those spaces and for providing genetic diversity in the plants they pollinate.
“The more diverse ecosystems are, the easier it is for them to adapt to the impacts of climate change,” she said. “Healthy and diverse insect populations help provide resiliency to weather changes and extremes.”
Native bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps and hummingbirds are Franklin County’s native “keystone species” pollinators. Scientists consider them “keystone,” because they are critical to the biodiversity and health of native plants and the lifecycle needs of native species, including humans.
“Sustainability of our food systems and local farms is linked to pollinators,” Noake MacPhee said.
Projects like, for instance, redeveloping an old mill into apartments or mixed use could incorporate pollinator habitats in its parking lots, she said. Solar fields would be another place to do so by using plantings and management to protect pollinators.
“There are stepping stones to provide pollinators food, nesting and overwintering so they can return each spring,” Noake MacPhee said.
Greenfield is a leader in this area, she said. It is already leading the way, including through Greening Greenfield’s pollinator campaign and the city’s annual Bee Fest, which was canceled this year because of COVID-19.
A 2017 Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources plan identified a critical need to evaluate, sustain and enhance pollinator populations in the state. Nationwide, wild pollinators and managed bee varieties used for crop pollination have experienced challenges to their ability to survive and flourish. Habitat loss, climate change and pesticide use are among the many threats.
In Massachusetts, Franklin, Plymouth and Dukes counties are the regions with the greatest percentage of farmland — the 2017 Agriculture Census counted 830 farms in Franklin County, a 6 percent increase in five years. More than 45 percent of all of the state’s agricultural commodities, including tree nuts, fruits and vegetables, rely on pollinators.
For more information, contact Noake MacPhee at 413-774-3167, ext. 130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.