Great River Energy Partnership Provides Pollinator Habitats

  • June 21, 2016
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  • Emily Franklin

It’s no secret that our insect pollinators are in danger. We know if we don’t do something soon, we risk losing many of our domesticated bees and entire species of wild pollinators.

In fact, Environmental Initiative held a summit earlier this spring in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to gather real and meaningful ideas from the community to protect pollinators from stressors like habitat loss, pesticides use and a changing climate.

We were excited to learn that Great River Energy, one of our longstanding members and supporters, is working to help create valuable habitat for bees and butterflies.

In honor of National Pollinator Week, June 20 to 26, I sat down with Craig Poorker, manager, land rights at Great River Energy to learn more about their work and get their advice for businesses that are considering doing the same.

To get started, what is Great River Energy doing to provide pollinator habitat?

Great River Energy, along with the city of Elk River and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), is working to bring back nine acres of vibrant, ecologically-diverse pollinator friendly native habitat at our Elk River campus on U.S. Highway 10. It is a unique opportunity for us to add to the nationwide effort to restore pollinator populations, while also working with partners who are committed to doing the same.

Where did the idea come from?

Great River Energy has been a leader in restoring native habitat for more than a decade. We have restored about 200 acres of native habitat across Minnesota, including at our headquarters facility in Maple Grove, near our peaking stations and along a transmission line near Savage, Minn. We also recently worked on a small planting and educational event with Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, where fifth graders participated in a prairie planting near a solar array.

While Great River Energy has long been committed to native habitat re-establishment, there is so much public support for pollinator habitat projects that we began looking for more opportunities again last year.

The Elk River campus is a unique location for pollinator habitat. We’re able to educate more and increase environmental awareness simply because our project is located near the Mississippi River along one of Minnesota’s most heavily traveled roads. An estimated 27,700 motorists will pass by the new prairie every day.

What was your biggest challenge with this project?

Our lawn has always been well manicured and appreciated by our employees and the community. It is a noticeable landmark in Elk River so we knew that it was important to start talking with community leaders and employees in advance to help them understand the “why’s” behind the change.

Awareness of the decline in pollinator populations is high and many people are excited about the project. We are hearing a lot of positive support. On the other hand, we also know that the lawn will be missed.

We are working with highly experienced landscape architects and prairie experts to make sure we do it right. We also know it will take some time before the native habitat is fully established.

Restoring pollinator habitat will give the campus a new look, and an important new purpose. Once the plants mature, the campus will be a beautiful new source of pride. It will not happen overnight. Fortunately, we do have an underground sprinkler system that will help the prairie mature more quickly than it otherwise would.

Why did Great River Energy decide to do this?

This is the right project at the right time for the right reasons. Both MnDOT and the city of Elk River, through their Energy City plan, also have pollinator habitat goals, and this is a great way to support each other and the environment. Four of the nine acres of this project are in MnDOT’s right of way.

And the time is right. The decline in pollinator populations is widely recognized now, and public awareness of the importance of native habitat has significantly increased.

Approximately 25 percent of Great River Energy’s employees work and live in Elk River. This is an opportunity for us all to support the nationwide effort.

What one piece of advice would you give other businesses and organizations that are looking to try something similar?

Help people understand why your project is important, find experienced vendors to work with, and find like-minded partners. We can do more together than individually. We appreciate our partnership with MnDOT and the city of Elk River. This partnership and project supports important environmental goals that that we all share.