Restoration’s Added Benefits
By Irv Schiffman
A growing number of professional studies have been undertaken in recent years to measure the benefits and costs of riparian restoration projects. The near unanimous conclusions are that such projects have proven themselves economically beneficial in a number of ways, including the reduced risk of flooding downstream through the ability of restored floodplains to absorb high waters; the avoidance of pollution by acting as a river buffer against agricultural chemicals; and the recreational opportunities afforded by restoration programs.
In this issue, Michelle Boercker, a River Partners restoration biologist, highlights an additional way in which restoration projects provide an economic as well as an ecological benefit to society, namely, the preservation and restoration of natural pollination systems.
In California, alfalfa, apricots, kiwifruit, and prunes are just a few of the food crops that are pollinated in part by native bees.* River Partners’ president and organic farmer, John Carlon, relies solely on native bumble bees to pollinate 8.5 acres of highbush blueberries (about 9,250 plants).
According to John, “Blueberries and bumblebees evolved together and bumblebees are spectacular pollinators. They fly in cold weather, can easily reach into blueberry flowers and effectively vibrate the entire flower cluster at take off and landing, greatly enhancing the transfer of pollen. The biggest problem with bumblebees is that they are not for rent. I must entice them into the fields from the surrounding 50 acres that we’ve kept as wildlife habitat.”
The replacement of abandoned, weed infested land with wildlife habitat could help other growers like John. Our projects consist of a variety of blossoming plants that attract, as one would expect, a variety of birds and insect pollinators. As Michelle points out, various native plant species bloom at different times of the year, increasing the opportunities for pollinators to obtain nectar sources.
We still don’t know what effect climate change will have on wild pollinators or plant-pollinator interactions, although stories concerning the global decline of honeybees and other pollinators such as butterflies and birds appear in news stories at an ominous rate. Conserving and sustaining wild pollinators may not be the primary purpose of River Partners’ restoration activities, but it is a valuable consequence of our efforts and an essential factor in the protection and enhancement of biodiversity.
In sum, the process of riparian restoration carried out by River Partners has multiple economic and ecological benefits, some of which are obvious while others, of equal importance, are less well known. Indeed, I am still learning many of the beneficial consequences that emanate from the work of this resourceful organization.
* Wild Pollinators: Agricultures Forgotten Partners, WFA Briefing Papers (2007).