Good fences make good neighbors

Artist Lynn Federspiel-Young, top, and Cheryl Detwiler Mihalka the artist and designer of the Pollinator Pathways art and education mural work on a section of the fence. Ilona McCarty for the Post Register

Ella Deutchman, left, and Mindy Crowell of Salmon Valley Stewardship fastening the back of the large panels of “Pollinator Pathway” fence in Salmon. Ilona McCarty for the Post Register

Art and environmental education were the focus of this public art project “Pollinator Pathway” in Salmon. Ilona McCarty for the Post Register

SALMON — Hundreds of wooden cutouts of pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies now adorn a chain-link fence that greets locals and visitors driving into or out of the city on U.S. Highway 93 South.

The new public artwork was the brainchild of Ella Deutchman, board president of the nonprofit Salmon Valley Stewardship, and represents nearly two years of planning and preparation.

The project, dubbed “Pollinator Pathway,” mimics the nearby “Stream of Dreams,” which was erected in 2014 and which features painted wooden cutouts of fish such as steelhead on fencing outside the local high school.

The pollinator fence is believed to be the first of its kind in the region and is designed to draw attention to the importance of pollinators in food production at a time when some of those insects are in decline.

The project drew on the skills and talents of local school kids and professional artists as well as such entities as Salmon Valley Stewardship, Steele Memorial Hospital and the local U.S. Bureau of Land Management office.

Yet the effort was fueled by Deutchman’s passion for pollinators and her desire to impart to children the crucial part insects such as bees, butterflies and wasps play in helping to produce fruit and other foods.

“You don’t have healthy pollinator populations and you won’t have healthy food,” said Deutchman, owner of a small sustainable farm outside Salmon.

That was the message she and others took to students in local schools, where Deutchman posed a question about what grocery stores might look like in the absence of pollinators in crop fields and in orchards.

Those concerns have intensified in recent years as native insects like the rusty patched bumblebee have all but disappeared after once being broadly counted across Midwestern and Northeastern U.S. states, according to government scientists.

And population counts for monarchs, arguably the world’s most charismatic butterflies, have plummeted in the past decade tied to loss of habitat and milkweed plants that are the required food of monarch young, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

An estimated 1.8 billion additional milkweed stems are needed in North America to restore sustainable populations of monarchs, according to a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Agency scientists said 860 million milkweed stems were lost in the northern United States in the last 10 years and that loss of those in croplands were a driving factor in declines of a butterfly under consideration for U.S. Endangered Species Act protections.

For Deutchman, the pollinator fence symbolizes her hope that all creatures great and small may flourish. And she values what the fences, the one depicting fish found in the Salmon River basin and the one portraying pollinators in Idaho and elsewhere, say about Salmon.

“The fences say we’re a community that participates in its environment and cares about its natural resources,” she said.