The recent success of an informal online pollinator identification “competition” called Bio Blitz has given township officials a good idea into what a fall season of online environmental education classes may look like.
The Bio Blitz effort in late June saw residents use a special app called iNaturalist to photograph and submit images of pollinators they find. The results were documented by township officials tracking pollinators as efforts continue to make the community as pollinator friendly as possible.
John Geiger, the manager of the Environmental Services Department at the township, said week-long Bio Blitz was successful and a good example of how online efforts are beneficial. The department hosts multiple educational events and plant give-aways throughout the year to aid residents in creating garden oases in their backyards for pollinators of all sorts.
“It was a real success, especially for our first year. Residents identified nearly 200 different species and we raised awareness for pollinators — how important they are and steps each of us can take to help them,” Geiger said.”This directly supports the township’s Pollinator Support Program, the purpose of which is to raise the awareness of pollinators and how we can help with them. (The iNaturalist app) Is a wonderful tool for folks to record their observations. It is free and quite easy to use.”
With COVID-19 rates surging in the Houston region in mid-July, Geiger said officials at the environmental department of the township are preparing to host online classes as necessary through the end of summer and into fall. The next class scheduled is July 25, the popular fall organic vegetables primer from Dr. Bob Randall, which will be hosted online via Zoom technology.
“We’re planning a full slate of fall and winter programs, ensuring that all county, state and federal safety guidelines are met. We’re confident we can follow those guidelines and still provide the high quality, engaging classes and events that our residents rely on,” Geiger added. “But there are a number of advantages to online classes. We can accommodate more residents our programs often fill up. It’s more convenient for folks to attend. They can ask questions and interact with the presenter, right from their kitchen table. And many of our instructors have been doing this for years. They’ve developed great on-line presentations and really enjoy the format.”
Geiger said the township is utilizing Zoom for all online classes.
“The presenters and attendees find it easy to use and we can make the recordings available for those who aren’t able to attend live,” he said of the website used by many governmental entities since the pandemic began in mid-March.
Online classes as well as the I-Naturalist app are both excellent ways to use technology to fill in gaps created by not being able to host an in-person gathering, Geiger noted.
“One, it is a way to get people outdoors and learning. But, we can see that data and we can see what kind of pollinators we have and start adding to our database to the populations of pollinators. The (information) can be uploaded to federal databases,” Geiger added. “Another cool feature of this app is you can get species identified. When you upload a photograph, the identification (of the pollinator) is crowd-sourced and you can find out what it is.”
The township’s environmental services department works overtime to educate residents year-round. In the fall, milkweed plants are given away for free and in January or February, a tree sapling give-away is hosted at Northshore Park. The township often partners with Nature’s Way Resources and the Texas Master Naturalists to host events.
“Everyone is aware of bees, and most think of honey bees, but many local (species of) bees (help). Butterflies and Monarchs are some of our favorites. Pollinators take many forms, beetles, flies, moths…on and on. there are hundred and thousands of different species of pollinators that take many forms,” he explained. “It is the bees and butterflies that get the most attention. The milkweed, there are four different species of milkweed, and they are particularly helpful for Monarch butterflies.”
Folks or residents interested in learning more about recycling, gardening and other environmentally friendly classes and resources can check out the township’s website for more information at https://www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/248/Gardening-and-Nature-Classes.
“We have classes and workships thoughout the year on how to attract pollinators and all the elements you need in your yard to have a fully-pollinator friendly yard. We have our first class (July 25), the Fall Organic Vegetables class, that is online and is through Zoom. We are going to have our landscaping solutions event this fall, but it will take a different form. We want to everyone to be safe. If we can hold a class in-person, we will. But if that becomes a challenge, we’ll go to online.”