From buckthorn to endangered bumblebees, a habitat success story

by Karen Schik
We're proud to help provide habitat for the endangered rusty patched bumblebee, Minnesota's state bee. (Photo by Chris Smith for FMR)

FMR is very pleased to report the finding of rusty patched bumble bee for the second year in a row at the Flint Hills Resources-owned restoration area in Pine Bend Bluffs in Rosemount. (Thanks to the Star Tribune and SunThisWeek for spreading the good news!)

Native bees are essential pollinators for many of our food crops and wildflowers. Unfortunately, their numbers have significantly declined, most likely due to a combination of factors (habitat loss, the use of certain pesticides, and possibly climate change). But there's one thing we know for sure that can improve their numbers: creating more habitat. 

FMR has been working with Flint Hills and Great River Greening to restore habitat at the 700-acre bluffland property since 1999. Together, we've restored about 25 acres of savanna and 25 acres of prairie.

In 2019 and 2020, we hired Chris Smith of Wildlife Research & Consulting Services to conduct bumblebee and butterfly surveys.

Last year, our restoration and survey efforts were rewarded when Chris first found the federally endangered rusty patched bumble bee at the restored savanna. We were thrilled he was able to repeat this success story in 2020.

What makes this an especially gratifying find is that the savanna where the bee was identified was literally choked with buckthorn in 1999. Almost no other plants grew there besides the shrubby invasive species and a canopy of large bur oak trees.

The restoration process has been long and challenging, but the restored savanna and prairie here now support at least 10 bumblebee species, including the rusty patched and the yellow bumblebee, a species of conservation need. Plus, 15 butterfly species have been found here, including hundreds of monarchs that gather in the fall.

Get involved

In 2018, FMR began training volunteers to conduct simple pollinator surveys using methods developed by the Xerces Society. As more people gather information about pollinators, we'll gain a better understanding of the population trends and how to protect them.

Join us to volunteer with FMR on our restoration sites and other projects.

Want to make rusty patched bumblebee habitat in your yard? Check out our tips on how to landscape for the river and for wildlife.


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