NMU Students Join Pollinator Protection Initiative

According to the U.S. Forest Service, “Our future flies on the wings of pollinators.” More than 80 percent of the world’s food-producing plants and the vast majority of the Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems depend on hard-working animals and insects for survival. They transfer pollen grains between plants to help sprout new generations, a service valued at $10 billion annually in the United States alone.

But as native vegetation is replaced, pollinators risk losing food sources and nesting sites required to continue their important role. The USFS is working with the Cedar Tree Institute, NMU Center for Native American Studies and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community on “Zaagkii,” the wings and seeds project. Its goals are to protect pollinators, propagate native plants and restore healthy habitat.

“It’s worthwhile to keep what’s native,” said Samantha Hasek, an NMU freshman fellow. “And it’s interesting to learn about past uses for plants and how we can still make use of them today.”

Hasek has worked with student interns and siblings Levi and Leora Tadgerson on the project, which includes language and cultural components. The NMU students interviewed Anishinaabe elders at numerous tribal communities in the Lake Superior basin for the Ojibwa portion of a USFS ethno-botany website that will address traditional uses for a wide range of native plants from the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin (they are pictured above with Nick Hockings on the Lac du Flambeau reservation in Wisconsin). Zaagkii means “That which comes from the earth” in the vanishing Ojibwe language, which the Tadgersons speak.

“Incorporating the language is important and this is an interesting way to do that,” said Leora. “By restoring native plants, we’re also cancelling out the depletion of native pollinators. The aboriginal peoples of the Americas achieved a sustainable way of life thousands of years ago. If we listen to the lessons our elders have for us, we can regain that knowledge.”

The multi-phase project is in its final year. Last summer, the NMU students helped at-risk youth distribute native plant seeds, build butterfly houses and bee shelters (pictured right) and collect invasive plants. This summer, they are working with youth volunteers to plant gardens at three USFS offices at the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. They will also build and sustain the first native plants greenhouse on an Indian reservation in North America.

“It’s great getting kids outside away from video games and into the real world for a while,” Levi said.

The students participated in a panel titled “Engaging Students through Community Action and Service” at the Native American Indigenous Studies Association conference last month in Tucson, Ariz.


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Updated: June 16, 2010

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