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Workshop a step in making area pollinator friendly
Marie Julie Robyns drills holes for her pollinator nesting box.

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a bug crisis out there.

Monarch butterfly populations are down by more than 90 percent from 20 years ago, according to Ashley Hoppers, the University of Georgia extension agent for Liberty County.

Populations of native bees are also on "the same declining path," she said.

Both are among what are called "pollinators," meaning they pollinate plants, which in turn make seeds and fruits.

There’s a laundry list of reasons for the decline in these insects, ranging from habitat loss to the indiscriminate use of pesticides.

"To survive, pollinators need more than flowers. They also need water, bare ground for nesting, shelter and nesting materials," Hoppers said. "In natural areas these items are readily available. But in urban and residential areas these resources are often limited."

In short, our preference for manicured lawns and ornamental shrubs doesn’t make for what Hoppers called "welcoming habitats for pollinators" — creatures that by flitting from flower to flower make the world habitable.

And without them, the world might become uninhabitable.

The World Bee Project reports 75 percent of the world’s food crops depend at least partly on pollination. Almost 90 percent of wild flowering plants need some sort of pollination in order to propagate.

A Wild Bee Project report says "most plants would become extinct without their pollinators, and pollinators would become extinct without plants."

In an email, Hoppers said she prefers to be optimistic.

"While it is important to recognize and understand the factors that are driving the pollinator decline paradigm, such grim news can conjure feelings of hopelessness and despair," she said. "We live in a dynamic world wrought with complex issues that do not have obvious answers, which can make an individual wonder what he or she could possibly do to make a difference."

One obvious answer: put out the welcome mat for pollinators.

Hoppers points to what she called a "plethora" of resources available from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension to help those interested in making their backyards more native-pollinator-friendly. And she’s working to provide hands educational opportunities for Liberty Countians — and others who want to sign up — to transform their personal spaces into more pollinator friendly zones.

On a recent Saturday, roughly two dozen people from five counties came out to Hinesville for Hopper’s workshop.

They got a class, then a chance to build pollinator nesting boxes, which at their simplest are small sections of untreated 4x4 posts with holes drilled on one side in the size different bee species prefer.

Add a roof, some sanding and decorations and the class was a hit among those who attended.

Hinesville resident Marie Julie Robyns said she heard about it on social media and decided to sign up.

"I heard that bees are dying because of pesticides and the lack of habitat for them," said Robyns, who is from Belgium and whose husband is in the military. "I think it is very important to promote native species and help them survive here and elsewhere, because they contribute to the pollination of a lot of plants and a lot of our food."

Mick Sims traveled from Rincon. He said he and his wife built a native pollinator habitat at their home in Lost Plantation Golf Club. He said he’s working on a kit that would make it easier for homeowners to establish their own pollinator habitats "and not have 200 plants to try to choose from," he said.

But until Saturday, Sims had never built a nesting box. He made two.

"This class is fantastic," Sims said. "We need more of them. This is so important to our planet, and really, everybody could be doing the same thing in their yard."

The workshop is part of the UGA Extension’s "Trees for Bees" project, Hoppers said, adding that with attendees coming from Liberty, Bryan, Chatham, Effingham and Long counties there’s clearly regional interest in the issue.

"Region interest leads to regional impact," she said. "I’m delighted our coastal communities recognize the importance of pollinator conservation, and I plan to offer more educational opportunities about pollinators in the months to come."

In the meantime, she couldn’t resist emailing a pun:

"I think the class was an un-bee-lievable success (haha)!"

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