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Pollinator-friendly Great Barrington now putting community plan into action

Since Great Barrington first enacted its pollinator-friendly resolution five years ago, several other towns in western Massachusetts have taken similar measures. "I'd like to think of Great Barrington as a leader in many ways," said Town Manager Mark Pruhenski.

GREAT BARRINGTON — In May of 2016, Great Barrington became the first municipality in New England to pass a pollinator-friendly community resolution. The time has come to put that measure fully into action, officials said at Wednesday’s Coffee with the Town Manager.

Devan Arnold. Photo via Facebook

Mark Pruhenski, who has been town manager since 2019, interviewed Great Barrington Agricultural Commission Chairperson Vivian Orlowski, who touted the pollinator plan. There was also a special guest, Devan Arnold, a Great Barrington native and horticulturist, who is designing the plan.

The plan is some 90 pages long, but it includes many colorful illustrations and a one-page executive summary for those who lack the patience to wade through the entire document. Click here for the full package.

The premise is that pollinator species are on the decline worldwide. The causes are many and some are indefinite, but one thing is certain: without pollinators, human life and all terrestrial ecosystems on earth would not survive.

See video below of yesterday’s Coffee with the Town Manager:

Orlowski repeated the Albert Einstein quote — thought by some to be apocryphal — that, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years left to live.”

“So that’s a pretty dramatic prediction but it is a real threat, since many bees and other pollinators are becoming extinct,” Orlowski said. “There is a loss of habitat, a loss of food sources, unpredictable weather, diseases, and widespread use of pesticides, especially the newer systemic pesticides based on nicotine, neonicotinoids. They impact the entire plant. They kill all the bugs, even the good insects such as pollinators.”

Vivian Orlowski. Screengrab image

Orlowski quoted the National Academy of Sciences, which says that nearly 75 percent of flowering plants on earth rely on pollinators in order to reproduce. From these plants comes one-third of the food for the world’s humans, and even greater proportions of food for wildlife.

“Pollinators transfer pollen between plants, enabling the plants to reproduce,” Orlowski explained. “How many of us would miss not having blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, pumpkins, and squash?”

Pollinators include not only bees, but butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, ants, and birds. Orlowski explained that these small creatures are vital to the ecosystems that humans rely upon for sustenance. In Massachusetts, bees alone pollinate 45 percent of the food crops grown.

Sean VanDeusen, who heads the town Department of Public Works, is in charge of supervising the physical implementation of the plan. Pruhenski said work has already begun installing native pollinator plants along Main Street. Crews have been cleaning out plant beds, and removing some plants that have been in place for seven to eight years. Trees are also being pruned.

GB Highway Department crews have been cleaning out plant beds along Main Street as part of the town’s Pollinator Action Plan. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Arnold said the design has been broken down into five different subdesigns. The planters will vary in size and placement. Some are above the grade of the sidewalk and some are below grade. All plantings will be tolerant of salt, and will be in mostly steady bloom from early April through November.

Orlowski said since Great Barrington first enacted its pollinator-friendly resolution five years ago, several other towns in western Massachusetts have taken similar measures, including Northampton, Williamstown, Egremont, and North Adams.

“I’d like to think of Great Barrington as a leader in many ways,” Pruhenski. He cited Great Barrington’s pioneering polystyrene ban which went into effect in 1990. In addition, the town also passed a ban on thin-film single-use plastic shopping bags in 2013 while Pruhenski was the town health agent. In 2018, voters at town meeting passed a ban on the sale of small non-reusable plastic water bottles and it even survived a movement to repeal it two months later.

CDCSB Executive Director Allison Marchese. Photo courtesy CDCSB

Allison Marchese, executive director of the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire, suggested her organization would like to join the effort. The CDCSB recently opened its latest affordable housing project, the Bentley Apartments, at 100 Bridge Street. The project includes a public riverfront park along the Housatonic River. Marchese said plans for the park include pollinator plants. She urged the Agricultural Commission to create a map of pollinator plantings in the town. Orlowski said the commission would certainly consider that.

Great Barrington’s 2018 Pollinator Action Plan, which the town says “is now a much-referenced model in municipalities across the state,” was developed in partnership with the Conway School of Sustainable Landscape Planning and Design in Northampton.

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