Can environmentalists align our messaging to protect pollinators and create healthy greenspaces for all?
Midwest Grows Green (MGG) just completed its first year coordinating communication, events and resources in support of the No Mow May movement across Milwaukee. We committed to this effort, because we saw great potential in raising awareness of global pollinator declines and discussing efforts to reverse this trend. We greatly exceeded our No Mow May (NMM) goals: nine Greater Milwaukee communities allowed their residents to participate in NMM, 17 local organizations participated in NMM planning and implementation, NMM posts on MGG’s Facebook and Twitter reached 9,515 individuals, seven different news outlets shared NMM stories, the NMM Milwaukee webpage had 1,164 unique pageviews and 21 individuals across Greater Milwaukee took the MGG pledge.
Despite the successes raising awareness for pollinator protection, we experienced pushback from an unlikely group–our fellow environmentalists. Criticisms included:
- The originators of No Mow May in Appleton used faulty citizen science regarding pollinators and retracted their article submitted to a scientific journal about their research. To learn more about why the researchers retracted the article and their plans to resubmit, please watch their presentation with us and the MMSD at bit.ly/NMMwebinar.
- Some researchers believe pollen from dandelions, clover and other weeds provide insufficient proteins for pollinators.
- No Mow May backs supporting arguments for preserving ecological lawn deserts that require toxic pesticides and gas-powered equipment to maintain.
If you have attended one of my presentations, you will know that MGG has no love for current lawn management practices. MGG frequently discusses the risks associated with turfgrass management and suggests alternatives to replace the lawn. Our No Mow May factsheet emphasizes pollinator gardens full of native plants as the ultimate goal for our engagement.
Residential homeowners should plant a pollinator garden before the hot summer months this year. However, please don’t feel bad if you prefer a low-growing turfgrass lawn, eco-lawn or bee-lawn. MGG believes that turfgrass serves a function in achieving sustainable landscapes, specifically for those communities and homeowners that lack the resources and expertise to install and manage native gardens and natural areas.
Nature-based, sustainable greenspace development and maintenance should service all communities, independent of their socio-economic status. To fulfill this aspiration, we need to make organic and sustainable landscaping products, services and practices more accessible for all. This requires collaboration from every sustainable landscaping professional and advocate, from the organic lawn care provider to the natural resource manager.
Our Green Shield Certified for Landscapes and Technical Assistance Program have encountered multiple situations where turfgrass provides the best pathway to eliminating synthetic pesticide and fertilizer use. Our partner park districts, municipalities and school districts express interest and passion for pollinator gardens, organic parks and rain gardens. Yet, most of our partners don’t have the operations and maintenance (O&M) funds and staff to preserve these types of greenspaces. The American School & University Annual O&M Cost Studies for K-12 schools recorded that the median US school district allocated less than 10% of its budget to O&M of their buildings and grounds since 1992. In 2013, the average municipal budget allocated 1.9% of spending to parks and recreation departments.
The No Mow May contrarian arguments that vilify turfgrass for institutional properties such as schoolyards do not serve sustainable landscaping interests when faced with these extreme budget constraints. These authorities do not have the budget or staff expertise to manage invasive weeds in natural areas with non-toxic strategies of controlled burns, solarization or sod-cutting. Instead, they allocate a significant portion of their budget to annual herbicide.
We have seen these budget-constrained authorities listen to the messages about the harms of turfgrass and use these harms to justify investing in artificial turf sports fields to get rid of turfgrass and the short-term budget costs of annual weed control, fertilization, irrigation and mowing.
For MGG the solution is simple. Insects can live in turfgrass and vegetated environments. They can’t live in artificial environments. The habitat and forage provided by natural lawns far outweigh the environmental and human health tradeoffs associated with artificial turf fields. We need more movements that encourage residents to grow green and living vegetation with minimal inputs of pesticides, fertilizers and water. So, MGG will proudly support future No Mow May efforts in Milwaukee and across the Midwest.
If you would like to receive more information about No Mow May and related movements and events, please take our MGG pledge at bit.ly/MGGpldg. Are you in Milwaukee and missed your opportunity to support pollinator protection? We can use your help to restore schoolyards without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers! Sign-up for our Milwaukee Public Schools Volunteer Day at bit.ly/MKEvolunteer23. Thank you to all our No Mow May Milwaukee partners for helping to create healthier and safer greenspaces for people, pets and pollinators!