The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
The Birds and the Bees
We're coming to the end of National Pollinator Week, June 20-26. Be sure to take your favorite pollinator to lunch.
It only seems fair. The birds and bees and other animals that are pollinators have been feeding you day in and day out.
The Fish and Wildlife Service tells us that these "hard-working animals help pollinate over 75% of our flowering plants, and nearly 75% of our crops" by carrying pollen from one plant to another as they collect nectar.
The problem of colony collapse disorder has made many of us aware of the importance of bees in pollinating crops, but you have lots of options for what kind of critter to thank. Other important pollinators are hummingbirds, bats, beetles, butterflies, and flies. The Pollinator Partnership has quite a list of pollinated foods, and what kinds of critters perform that service for each plant.
To get technical, the blowing wind is a major mechanism for spreading pollen, too, but wind is not generally considered a "pollinator." And, for that other vexing question, I have not seen a good explanation for why pollen is spelled with an E, but pollination is spelled with an I.
National Pollinator Week, established by the U.S. Senate in 2007 (unanimously!), is an annual celebration of pollinators and their role in our ecosystem, economy, and world food supply. It is also an occasion to learn about, and act on, the threats to pollinator health.
The need for awareness and action is critical. Worldwide there is disturbing evidence that pollinating animals have suffered from loss of habitat, chemical misuse, introduced and invasive plant and animal species, and diseases and parasites.
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A major report, Status of Pollinators in North America, reminds us that there is more going on here than servicing crops for the human agricultural system. "Over and above its direct economic value to humans, pollination by animals provides essential maintenance of the structure and function of a wide range of natural communities".
The report looks at both managed pollinators (like the honeybee), and wild pollinators. The hundreds of pages of detailed information make it clear that there are lots of factors involved in keeping pollinator populations healthy. Skimming through the 12 page summary gives a taste of the experts' wide-ranging findings and recommendations -- and illustrates the urgency of research and action.
Some of that action can be done on a personal level. The Fish and Wildlife Service suggests that you can plant a pollinator garden, provide nesting sites, and avoid or limit pesticide use -- with lots of detailed advice on how to do each of those.
If you do want to take a pollinator to lunch with the most appropriate plants for your ecoregion, The Pollinator Partnership has 37 very detailed planting guides for various regions of the US and Canada. (They cover a lot of territory, but I found that there isn't a guide for the Colorado Front Range area yet.)
Individual actions are important, but they're not enough. Some of the causes of pollinator decline are systemic. The dramatic decline of the Monarch butterfly, for example, is partially due to the pervasive use of herbicides that are wiping out the milkweed that is essential for them. The butterflies need continuous corridors with adequate food all along their extensive migration routes. (And the milkweed needs to be the right species for that area!) Governments and agribusiness need to be involved in keeping habitat intact.
At least 18 states have enacted legislation on pollinators in recent years. Legislation generally falls into one of five categories: research, pesticides, habitat protection, awareness, and beekeeping.
Exposure to pesticides is one of many factors contributing to the decline of bees and other pollinator populations. Neonicotinoids, a widely used class of insecticides developed in the 1990s, are believed to be particularly harmful. Unlike traditional insecticides applied to the surface of plants, neonicotinoids are absorbed into plant tissue and can be present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to pollinators.
Legislation in the US House, HR 1284, "Saving America's Pollinators Act of 2015" -- which has been sitting in committee for over a year -- requires the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend the registration of members of the nitro group of neonicotinoid insecticides until the EPA determines that the insecticides will not cause unreasonable adverse effects on pollinators. A call to your Representative might help get this bill out of committee.
Shopping for organic food is another way to help reduce the use of neonicotinoids. [http://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/environmental-policy/neonicotinoid-insecticides-zmgz13jjzmar.aspx]
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Pollination has been described as "the premier ecological mutualism on the planet" -- connecting plants and animals in very specific and absolutely essential ways. Care for pollinators helps to promote ecological health, and is essential for our food supply.
Pollinator Week is a great time to be amazed at this remarkable mutualism, to learn more about some of the issues, and to commit yourself to action -- individually and legislatively -- to care for the pollinators. Click on some of today's links, and decide what you're going to do for the birds and the bees that are such important pollinators.
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