Protecting the Pollinators
Nestled in the mountains of Helena, MT, and surrounded by thousands of acres of National Forest, the Feathered Pipe Ranch serves as a natural refuge, where people, plants, and animals can connect in a respectful way. In addition to attending workshops with world-renowned yoga and spiritual teachers, visitors come to the Ranch eager to experience firsthand how to live in harmony with nature and more clearly see—or feel—their role in the greater ecosystem of this planet.
Mama deer bring their offspring to graze alongside guests during dining hours, moose swim freely in the lake, and dandelions, clover and wildflowers bloom all over the property, making this land a sanctuary for insects, birds, rodents and mammals alike.
Over the decades, we’ve learned our fair share about the delicate balance of stewardship and management—researching the latest science and conservation strategies from local and global organizations, but mostly, by watching and listening to the intricate order of the land, season after season, year after year.
Preserving this natural habitat is deeply important to us, and coexisting effectively does require intentional action, especially as we learn more about the challenges that certain keystone species face today.
The Birds and the Bees
It’s time to have the talk.
From bees and bats, to butterflies and birds, pollinators play an integral role in our ecosystems. They are essential for plant reproduction as well as creating genetic diversity and resilience among the plants they pollinate—an absolute necessity in the era of climate change. Pollinators are also paramount for growing food. In fact, one third of the world’s food production depends on bees, according to bee experts at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Bees transfer pollen from plant to plant, allowing the plants to reproduce and grow into the fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes we eat, as well as the plants that our livestock and other animals eat.
Without bees and other pollinators, we’d be living in a very different world. For starters, we’d be much hungrier, and we’d be looking at a dull landscape void of flowers, greenery and animal species that many humans have come to adore.
Yet with all of these positive contributions to society, pollinators worldwide are in decline due to habitat loss, intensive farming practices and pesticides, and changes in weather patterns. Air pollution is also thought to be affecting bees. Preliminary research from Penn State shows that air pollutants interact with scent molecules released by plants, and the mixed signals interfere with the bees’ ability to forage efficiently, making them slower and less effective at pollination.
So what’s the good news? People can take a variety of actions to aid in the recovery of these species, for the benefit of, well, every living thing on the planet!
One way to help is to stop using fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, as these chemicals get picked up by those cute bee bodies when they’re doing their rounds and end up poisoning the very messengers that we need to survive.
You can also learn about plants that are native to your region and plant them in your yard, outside of your business or on a larger scale if you have access to more property. Pollinators have evolved with native plants—which are best adapted to the local growing season, climate, and soils—and these plants produce more pollen and nectar than non-native plants. It’s also worth mentioning that all native plants meant to attract more pollinators are beautiful to the human eye. Bees and butterflies love colorful flowers of various shapes and sizes.
There are many other ways, small and large, to get involved in the efforts to boost pollinator populations. And if not for the valiant reason of saving bees, perhaps for your own enjoyment. As India said in her Dandelion Effect Podcast Interview: “Everybody I know who has any kind of garden is happy. Even if it’s not a food garden, they’re raising something, and that makes them really, really (really!) happy.”
She also said that one secret to a good life is to “eat plenty of strawberries,” which bees also love. Needless to say, supporting the pollinators is a win-win choice.
Feathered Pipe Ranch Native Plants & Pollinator Project
This year, we’ve taken our pollinator recovery efforts a step further with the launch of the Feathered Pipe Ranch Native Plants & Pollinator Project. Sponsored in 2023 by Lewis and Clark Conservation District and partially funded by a grant from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, this project aims to improve the lives of pollinators, which in turn has a positive impact on all of our lives.
We’ve always put energy towards creating and maintaining this kind of sanctuary—from letting the clovers and dandelions provide plant diversity in our lawn to protecting native plants, animals, and habitat. But now we’re getting official and really leaning into the educational component, sharing openly with our community about the conservation actions we’re taking and making the Ranch an even more interactive—and beautiful—experiential site for pollinator preservation.
Feathered Pipe Native Plants & Pollinator Project
Timeline: Starting May 2023 with an ongoing commitment to continue and build upon going forward.
Partners: Sponsored in 2023 by Lewis and Clark Conservation District; partially funded by a grant from Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and through donations from The Writing Company and private donors.
1. Improve the habitat (and lives) of pollinators and increase biodiversity at and around Feathered Pipe Ranch. This focuses on food, shelter and water.
2. Renew landscaping around the buildings and plant and/or seed
3. Remove invasive species around the property and seed native pollinator-friendly plants to better integrate developed areas into the surrounding nature.
4. Provide education, awareness and inspiration about the project through brochures and books, our website, and nature walks.
— New landscaping around buildings. We planted and/or seeded native plants around the Main Lodge, Chalet, Lake Cabin and Bathhouse, paying special attention to plants for butterflies, hummingbirds and bees. Special landscaping was done around the Bathhouse to provide an outside lounge and stargazing area.
— Removal of invasive/noxious weeds. We commit to zero use of pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers. Instead, we weed whack and pull noxious weeds by hand in the effort to stop the spread. The main species are spotted knapweed, Canadian thistle and orange hawkweed. This is a long-term project that we’ve been committed to since we’ve been on the property.
— Ground preparation and seeding. We seeded a pollinator plant mix behind the bathhouse, around the new yurt, on the dam (across the lake) and around the nature deck. This is a total surface area of about 20,000 square feet.
— Kitchen garden. We’ve created an herb garden just outside the Ranch kitchen to help us combine usable culinary herbs with native pollinator plants. Enclosed by a natural wood fence to keep the deer out, the garden also allows us and our guests to observe and enjoy up close how composting works and the process of growing food we can use on the spot.
— Bird Habitat. 25 new bird houses were purchased from a local store Birds & Beasleys in Helena and hung up throughout the property. You will notice them in all kinds of sweet places as you walk around.
— Maintenance for planted areas. This step includes watering and weeding throughout the season and nurturing growth of clover and other varieties of native pollinator-friendly plants amidst the grass on the lawn.
— Birds, Bees, & Books mini-library. A mini outdoor lending library built locally with repurposed hardwood scraps is curated with plant/nature books about birds, bees, pollinators, Montana stories, and other precious books. It is available for guest use all summer and stands at the entry to the aspen grove sitting area. The library structure features a bee hotel where bees can hibernate and shelter from the harsh weather in winter, and a built-in birdhouse for use in the spring by chickadees or nuthatches.
— Nature walks. Throughout the summer staff and teachers conduct walks and hikes through the surrounding nature and learn firsthand about the importance of these plants and pollinators, as well as how people can get involved in the efforts here or in their hometowns.
— Educational materials. Educational materials are available in the Birds, Bees, & Books library as well as in the dining hall. Aside from the books and pamphlets to enjoy on grounds, there are also brochures and activity booklets—special thanks to the Lolo National Forest for providing printed copies— as well as Plants of Feathered Pipe books that guests can take with them for free.
We are so excited to build on this project in the coming years, and as always, we feel incredibly lucky to live and work in a place where it’s possible to experience a peaceful coexistence with other species of plant and animal life.
This project was made possible in part due to 2023 Sponsors. Special thanks to: