Prairie Wisdom from Tim Siegmund: Bees, Pollinators, Ag Exemptions & More

Tim Siegmund (scroll to 2/2020 meeting)  leads the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s Private Lands and Habitat Program  and is on the board of Native Prairies Associations of Texas (NPAT).

Recently blogged at this website was his answer about mowing to maintain a prairie. We plan to continue blogging his answers to various prairie related questions under the tag Prairie Wisdoms from Tim Siegmund

Question #1 (from Kirsti Harms, Executive Director, NPAT): What are the benefits of keeping bees on a prairie. Does that count as an agriculture valuation? Does it negatively impact native bees?

Tim’s answer: Yes to both. The law was changed to allow properties between 5 and 20 acres to qualify for ag by keeping bees, but you have to keep a lot of hives. More than that acreage could really support so they bees are depending on their neighbors. Yes, honey bees can out compete or over saturate areas to push out native pollinators. Further, honey bees are generalists so they can exclude species specialists from their preferred nectar source while also not begin quite as efficient at pollination as the native bee. So honeybees are cool, and beekeeping can help folks qualify for ag. However, they should be kept off natural areas as they can negatively impact our native pollinators.

Page 3 in TPWD’s Pollinator Management guidelines highlights the potentially detrimental relationship of honey bees with native bees. https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_w7000_1813.pdf

…[I am] highlighting this link to our “Private Lands and Pollinators” page…  There are lots of folks with wildscapes, prairie gardens, pocket prairies, and so on that might benefit from some of the resources on this webpage. It discusses different species of native pollinators and how to manage to attract them, and what species of plants to select as well. https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/wildlife_diversity/nongame/native-pollinators/

Question #2 (from Andrew Coulter, HNPAT board member): How do the tax incentives for wildlife management/conservation (by which I mean, in this case, management to promote native pollinators) compare to the ag exemption for beekeeping?…

Tim’s answer: Beekeeping only allows you to take land from full value into an ag valuation which lowers the overall taxable value.  It is then broken down into production catergories (native pasture, irrigated cropland, dryland cropland, orchard, bee keeping, etc).  Once it’s been broken down into its categorical use the switch over to wildlife is tax neutral.  So whatever it did to qualify for ag (farming, ranching, beekeeping) and the previous taxable value associate with that property stays with it as it moves to the wildlife valuation.  Beekeeping is actually one of the highest appraised practices because on a per acre basis it raises more money than native range or other uses.

So there really is no incentive or disincentive between beekeeping and the wildlife  valuation.  Beekeeping can help those smaller properties between 5 and 20 acres to qualify for the open space exemption with an ag valuation.  Then long term allow them to transition to the wildlife valuation at the same taxable rate if they so choose.  In order to get to wildlife valuation currently you have to already be in an agricultural or timber valuation first.

Comment from Wally Ward (HNPAT board member):  Dr. John Neff of the Central Texas Melittological Institute in Austin made a presentation to the Houston Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association several years ago. He said africanized bees have displaced European honeybees throughout much of Texas. Native bees are also more efficient pollinators. Honeybees are invasive exotics.

Prairie Maintenance #1: Mowing

A question came to NPAT (Native Prairies Association of Texas): “We will be converting some acreage in our parks [to] prairies and wildflower areas… What is the recommended amount of times per year and height… to mow the areas…

Answered by Tim Siegmund of Texas Parks & Wildlife and board member of NPAT

I would agree with the once or twice.  6 or 7 times a year is wayyyyyy too much for any type of prairie in Texas to truly express itself floristically….

I would recommend 6” being absolute lowest they would shred.  It would be better at 8-12”.  This leaves more growing points (buds, leaves, stems) on the vegetation so it can recover and survive. I tell folks that shredding in late February is ok before spring wildflowers begin to lift from their rosettes, and then early July is ok once spring wildflowers are done, and it gives summer and fall wildflowers enough time to recover to bloom again in the fall if they get rain.

As far as untidy that is the in the eye of beholder.  Some would say thickets of Japanese honeysuckle, Chinese privet, Ligustrum, and callary pear are untidy, but that’s what I see when I go to most city parks.  So an untidy native area with lots of bees and butterflies may be of better worth especially with a few interpretive signs to let folks know why it looks the way it does.