PLENTY SUMMER 2020 | Page 22

problems, farmers have the most to lose from irresponsible management, and therefore endeavor to stay educated and current on environmental issues. The Agricultural Reserve, a crown jewel of the county, is so beautiful and valuable because its mission to preserve agricultural lands by necessity also preserves the wild lands that surround them. And what we’ve learned from past mistakes is that those seemingly “purposeless” wild lands actually play an essential role in the ecosystem that makes agriculture sustainable. For example, wild pollinators, like bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, bats, beetles, moths, and flies—all the critters that make us flinch when they buzz past our ears—are absolutely essential to plant reproduction. In fact, this aspect of the ecosystem is so fragile, and yet so entirely vital to the overall strength of the whole, that it is keenly guarded by those who live and work in the Reserve. Like canaries in the coal mine, when pollinators fail, it indicates that the rest of the ecosystem is at risk, too. So producers and naturalists alike carefully monitor the health and habitat of native wild pollinators in order to protect them, which obviously supports our own health and wellbeing. Of the major threats to wild pollinators—loss of habitat, pesticides, and light pollution—the greatest is habitat loss. Despite efforts to prevent it, wild habitat loss in the Ag Res occurs as it does in many other places. Out of necessity, past generations repurposed wild land into crop fields, leaving wild pollinators with only small field borders of less diverse native plants for their survival. Today, additional habitat continues to be lost in various ways. For example, despite a decade of efforts to stop the action, in excess of 40 acres of mature woodland was clear cut for a housing development on Peach Tree Road. Since this deforestation, many lifelong residents witnessed an immediate decline in both the number and diversity of wildlife, including, alarmingly, the pollinating insects. The good news is, in its effort to preserve land for agriculture, the County Master Plan limits new home construction to one house per 25 acres in the Reserve. The bad news is that the Master Plan is very often challenged by private interest ventures, and the durability of conservation easements is frequently tested by new homeowners. Fortunately for the pollinators and farmers within the Ag Res, watchdog groups like Montgomery Countryside Alliance and the Sugarloaf Citizens Association work diligently to ensure the county guards the integrity of the Master Plan in order to protect what remains. But other threats to pollinators, like the improper application of chemicals on lawns and gardens, are more difficult to manage. With proper use by farmers, pesticides are not the most egregious insult to pollinators. But while farmers diligently study potential consequences of pesticides, many homeowners don’t take the time to read the warnings on landscape products. Those improper applications are devastating wild pollinator populations. Fortunately, as recently as this year, new laws and regulations are being enacted to try to attempt to mitigate this problem. One of the newest concerns to wild pollinators is the increase of artificial light in the Ag Res. While many pollinators are diurnal, a significant percentage of them, such as moths, bats, and some beetle species, rely on nocturnal schedules to forage. A recent Swiss study The night sky of the Ag Reserve (outlined in green) remains relatively dark compared to the rest of the county, but light pollution is becoming more of a problem for pollinators health. 22 plenty I Summer growing 2020