US Army Corps of Engineers
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An Invisible Gem of the Earth: How Bees Engage with Pollinators across the Corps

And how we're working to improve it.

Published May 21, 2020
Tygart Lake Corps employees work with the buzzing residents living in their interpretative honeybee display. The display allows visitors to get an up-close look at nature’s most important pollinator inside the visitors center and out.

Tygart Lake Corps employees work with the buzzing residents living in their interpretative honeybee display. The display allows visitors to get an up-close look at nature’s most important pollinator inside the visitors center and out.

Bees, birds, beetles and butterflies: what do they have in common?

All of them – including an assortment of other species – play a vital role as the invisible engine powering the world’s food economy, pollinating plants and keeping nature in check. You do not notice them now, but you would notice if they were gone. And their numbers are declining.

The Corps of Engineers is working to change that.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees wear a lot of hats - most of them are hard. But when you visit a couple of Pittsburgh District recreation sites, you can find a few park rangers sporting their headgear covered in a veil of netting.

The United States Senate designated a week in June as “National Pollinator Week” in 2007 - an initiative designed to raise awareness on the importance of pollinators and the threats they face. Since 2014, the Corps has worked to develop plans enhancing pollinator habitats across more than 12 million acres of land and water.

Pollinator plots can be found at the district’s Shenango River and Tygart lakes sites, which feature exhibits designed to educate the public about the importance of those species while encouraging proactive conservation practices.

Tygart Lake hosts a range of pollinator plants, including magnolia trees, cherry trees, dogwood trees, persimmons, crab apple trees, butterfly bushes and lilies. This assortment of flora serves to attract and sustain an active pollinator population.

However, bees create the most buzz inside Tygart’s interpretative honeybee display, which allows visitors to get an up-close look at nature’s most important pollinator inside the visitors center and out. Commercial honeybees are responsible for one of every three bites of food we eat and annually contribute $15 billion of agricultural value.

“For us, it is important to provide these hives not just for our pollinators, but for bees that are all around us that we do not know about,” said Stacy E. Lewis, Tygart Lake project site resource manager. “Honeybees are essential to our crops and everyday lives. They keep nature in check. Here at Tygart, we are trying to foster an environmental awareness to the community, students and visitors through our interpretive displays and ranger programming.”

It’s not just the well-known honeybee that performs the crucial role of pollinator. District Wildlife Biologist, John Chopp, explained pollinators come from several species and do their work in many places.

“A variety of animals serve as pollinators, including bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, bats, beetles and birds,” Chopp said. “Pollinators are crucial members of various ecosystems, from farmland to wilderness to urban environments. There are an estimated several hundred thousand flowering plant species, many of which depend on pollinators to reproduce.”

An “invisible gem of the Earth” is how Wildlife Biologist Rose Reilly, Pittsburgh District, describes honeybees and other pollinators. She says we do not notice their contribution to our economy and quality of life.

“The pollinators are really critical to our whole economy and food security,” Reilly said. “You wouldn’t even have tomato without a pollinator.”

Reilly says climate change, loss of habitat, human activity improper use of insecticides have resulted in sharp reductions in honeybees and native pollinators during the past three decades. Combine this decline with the onset of conditions such as Colony Collapse Disorder and the future of pollinators such as honeybees can look bleak.

But Reilly believes you do not have to own millions of acres like the Corps of Engineers to produce a positive impact for pollinators. She says you can start in your backyard and create your own pollinator plot.

“Take portions of your yard and don’t mow it,” Reilly said. “Let the things that would naturally grow there - grow there and purposefully plant species that pollinators need.”

You can learn more about planting your pollinator plot here: https://www.fws.gov/midwest/news/PollinatorGarden.html

To find out about the Corps of Engineers Pollinator Protection Plan, visit https://corpslakes.erdc.dren.mil/employees/pollinator/pdfs/USACE-Pollinator-Strategy.pdf.

Pittsburgh District’s 26,000 square miles include portions of western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio, western Maryland and southwestern New York. Our jurisdiction includes more than 328 miles of navigable waterways, 23 navigation locks and dams, 16 multi-purpose reservoirs, 42 local flood-protection projects and other projects to protect and enhance the nation’s water resources, infrastructure and environment.

The district’s additional missions include water supply, emergency response, and regulation of the Clean Water Act. The Corps often partners with local communities to improve water supply, sanitary sewer and stormwater infrastructure. During disasters, the district manages the nation’s emergency power contract which provides temporary power to downed critical infrastructure. District personnel deploy overseas to help build, manage and administer water resource infrastructure projects.

For more information about the district, visit: www.lrp.usace.army.mil.

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