Lawn-mowing and Pollinators

While the flowers in my yard attracted and sustained pollinators, the lawn which was about half the yard, provided no wildlife benefits worthy of mention.

A recent article in The Wildlife Society’s, Professional Wildlifer magazine caught my attention. The article describes research conducted to see if mowing lawns less often would yield benefits for wildlife, particularly native pollinators.

As most lawns currently exist, they aren’t habitat for much of anything except humans. Occasionally a deer or rabbit might nibble on a lawn and in some areas this use can be significant, but most lawns are far from sources of wild mammals. Even then, when rabbits visited my yard in Idaho Falls, they usually preferred the flower beds and vegetable gardens. Robins hunted for worms in the lawn, but all the buzzing insects kept to the flower gardens.

I will admit right now that I definitely was in the group of homeowners that did not allow a single dandelion or other broadleaf plant to survive long in my lawn. Not one. I kept my grass long because it used less water, was better for the grass and it discouraged weeds. In self-righteous piety, I even helped neighbors control their dandelions. In my defense, I spot-sprayed individual offenders, never broadly applying herbicide in wide swaths and only used insecticide once when root-eating cutworms threatened to overwhelm us. Even then, I applied it only to the area affected, not the entire yard. Still, it wasn’t habitat in any sense of the word.

Why this research though? Surprisingly, one 2005 study calculated that there are over 163,000 square kilometers (62,700 square miles) of lawns in the continental U.S. alone. That is about the size of all of New England. That number has certainly increased since then. Americans love their lawns and lawns are not going to disappear, so the researcher wondered if lawns could be made “less bad”. Improving that much habitat, spread across the nation, would make a difference, if not to the larger species then to the pollinators that we depend upon.

The study compared mowing lawns weekly (the standard practice) to mowing every other week and every three weeks. They counted the flowers that grew in the lawns in each case and then counted the number and number of species of pollinators present. Where this study was conducted in Massachusetts, there were a lot more species of native bees than even the researchers realized. They found a total of 111 different species in all the backyards they sampled and the average backyard had 35 species.

It wasn’t surprising to note that lawns mowed every other week produced more flowers and hence, significantly more pollinators. The three-week interval was surprising though. Although it too produced 2.5 times as many flowers such as clover as the lawns mown weekly, there was no increase in pollinator numbers over the two-week mowing interval. The researcher postulated that the longer grass actually inhibited the smaller pollinators from accessing the flowers.

The take-away message, and this should be good news for those who have to mow the lawn, is that you can easily justify reducing your mowing frequency from weekly to twice a month. You will likely save water, reduce noise and air pollution and help native pollinators at the same time.

However, if you are like me and just can’t stand to see dandelions in the lawn, there is an alternative—plant lots of wildflowers. Convert some of that lawn to garden beds and reduce the time you spend mowing. The benefits should be the same.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho