Iowa farm group restoring habitat for bees, fish

By Jessie Higgins
The Iowa Soybean Association is restoring oxbows, like the one pictured, as habitat for endangered Topeka shiners. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Soybean Association
The Iowa Soybean Association is restoring oxbows, like the one pictured, as habitat for endangered Topeka shiners. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Soybean Association

EVANSVILLE, Ind., May 18 (UPI) -- An Iowa farm group plans to convert several acres of unused agricultural land to habitat for endangered native bees and fish in coming years.

The project, led by the Iowa Soybean Association, involves painstakingly restoring small pieces of unusable agricultural land.


"The goal is to improve non-working ground," said Corey McKinney, a conservationist with the association. "We're not taking land out of production. We're going to places like creek bottoms or fallow areas and restoring them."

The project, which began a couple of years ago, received a boost last week when Syngenta, a global seed and pesticide company, agreed to provide tens of thousands of dollars of upcoming work.

Syngenta funds projects to restore pollinator and other endangered species habitats around the world.

"We work with organizations that are farmer-driven, innovative and connect farm productivity with conservation," Caydee Savinelli, Syngenta's stewardship team and pollinator lead, said in a statement.

"We each bring unique talents to the table. It takes a lot of partners and unique skill sets to make initiatives like this work."

For this project, the groups are targeting habitats for two specific endangered species -- the rusty-patched bumble bee and the Topeka shiner, a freshwater fish.


Native to Midwest

The rusty-patched bumble bee is native to the Midwest. Over the last 20 years, its numbers have declined about 87 percent, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The species is likely to be present in only 0.1 percent of its historical range," according to the agency. "There are many potential reasons for the rusty patched bumble bee decline including habitat loss, intensive farming, disease, pesticide use and climate change."

In the last year, the Iowa Soybean Association has restored about 14 acres of habitat for those bees, and it plans to restore 5 more acres this year.

"It sounds small, but we are talking about extensive restoration work," McKinney said. "It takes time."

To survive, the bee requires multiple different types of flowering plants that bloom throughout the spring, summer and fall. The conservationists must carefully plan what kind of plants they will put on each acre, McKinney said.

Waterways aided

The association also plans to restore areas known as oxbows, which are U-shaped, off-channel waterways that flow from rivers, streams or creeks.

Those areas are ideal habitat for the endangered Topeka shiners and other freshwater fish.

Over time, oxbows tend to fill with sediment and disappear, McKinney said.


The association already has restored 23 oxbows across the state and plans to restore another 35 over the next three to five years, he said.

The restored oxbows and wildflower habitats become home to many native species other than rusty-patched bumble bees and Topeka shiners, McKinney added.

"There might not be as much habitat left for native species because of changes in the landscape, but we're trying to look at how to re-create some of the old landscapes," McKinney said.

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