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Woodstock resident advocates for invertebrates

by: MERRY MACKINNON - When Xerces Societys Staff Scientist Celeste Mazzacano moved into her Woodstock home, she transformed her front yard from lawn to a flower garden, which now attracts many of the native bees and other pollinators that the Xerces Society works to protect.A lot of “hover flies” zip around Celeste Mazzacano’s Woodstock yard, along with all kinds of bees that Mazzacano, who has a PhD in entomology, identifies by their scientific names.

Enticing pollinators like hover flies, which look like bees, was one of Mazzacano’s and her partner’s goals when they moved into their Woodstock house six years ago, got rid of the grass, and landscaped their yard with flowers and herbs.

“It had been lawn, which is habitat for nothing,” remarked Mazzacano, as bees buzzed by her legs. “Now we see birds coming here.”

Mazzacano is Xerces Society's staff scientist and aquatic program director. Named after a blue butterfly, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation was founded 40 years ago by a lepidopterist named Robert Michael Pyle, who has written several books on butterflies, including “The Butterflies of Cascadia: A Field Guide to All the Species of Washington, Oregon, and Surrounding Territories”.

Pyle chose that name for the society because the Xerces butterfly is thought to be extinct in North America, due to human activity and habitat destruction, explained Mazzacano, whose gusto for invertebrates is demonstrated by the spider tattooed on her arm.

Headquartered in Portland, the nonprofit Xerces Society protects often-ignored but at-risk invertebrates – a wide variety of animals without backbones, such as mollusks, bees, butterflies, and dragonflies.

“A lot of people don't really notice invertebrates,” Mazzacano reflected. “But that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested, when they find out more.”

One of Xerces Society's popular projects is a Protect Pollinators Campaign, with information available on its website that encourages homeowners to plant habitat that attracts bees and to use no pesticides. Improper use of pesticides was implicated in two large bee kills in the Portland area in June.

The nonprofit’s work also includes habitat management planning with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. And, over the past four years, the Xerces Society has also collaborated with the Johnson Creek Watershed Council and Friends of Crystal Springs Creek on local citizen science programs.

Currently, Xerces Society has three citizen-science programs that recruit volunteers to collect data. One centers around an endangered species of bee called the Western Bumblebee.

“We’re trying to figure out their status and distribution,” she explained. “And people can help with this right in their back yards.”

Another citizen-science program is the Dragonfly Pond Watch Project, part of a Migratory Dragonfly Partnership study on dragonfly behaviors and migrations. “There’s a Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly in Oregon that migrates down the coast,” she said. “But there's no centralized database.”

The other project consists of the rescue, tagging and relocating of native mussels from the Westmoreland Duck Pond on July 6 and 7, of which Mazzacano is the lead researcher. “Some of the mussels, called floaters, are as big as the palm of your hand,” she said, adding that native mussels are a protected species in Oregon.

A second group of volunteers will be needed to do a follow-up survey. So far, about 25 citizens have volunteered for the Westmoreland project, previously profiled in THE BEE and funded by East Multnomah County Soil and Water Conservation and by Metro Nature in Neighborhoods.

“It’s really been gratifying,” Mazzacano smiled, of the volunteer response so far.

For more information on the society, go online to: www.xerces.org/citizen-science