All Eyes on ‘Plan Bee’

image: Pollinator Partnership
image: Pollinator Partnership

Pollinator Week Draws Diverse Attention

The third week in June is home to National Pollinator Week, a week that the U.S. Federal Government and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) officially set aside in 2006 to steer our focus toward the plight pollinators are facing. It’s estimated that a quarter of all invertebrates are pollinators and in the past 35 years, invertebrate populations have decreased by about 45%, while the human population has doubled (University College of London, 2014). In earth time, 35 years is about as long as it takes for a person to blink. If this much diversity can be lost that fast, our actions must also be as swift. Fortunately this year, all hands were on deck, from local parks departments all the way up to the President of the United States. But what was accomplished? And…is it enough?

Monarch populations are at a mere 10% of what they were just 20 years ago (Center for Biological Diversity, 2014) and domesticated honey bee stocks have decreased 58% in 58 years (National Research Council, 2007). In response, POTUS announced the release of an unprecedented action plan to call national attention to the population devastations happening to wild and managed pollinators. The White House Pollinator Research Action Plan outlines issues pollinators are facing and highlights priority actions for a cornucopia of public and private groups. This is the first administration to actively address the issue of pollinator decline to the public and that is a huge step. It is also following through with its promises of creating databases of more accessible information.

But the problem is the document is filled with words like “identify,” “understand,” “determine,” and “research.” The key word lacking here is “do.” How can this be called an action plan when it is missing key action words? Even when action is mentioned, some of the measures have existed for years already. These are not necessarily new advances to protect pollinators, but rather are a distraction from our relatively unbridled pesticide use and the paucity of suitable habitat as a result. I can’t say I am surprised though. When 25% of the global agrochemical market is neonicotinoids, you are bound to run into some red tape (National Resource Defense Council, 2014). Luckily, there are groups spreading the message to put pressure on the government to make big changes…and fast.

Groups such as the Xerces Society, NAPPC, and the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) have been relentlessly advocating and establishing progress for pollinators for years. The Xerces Society was a force in getting the Pollinator Habitat Protection Act (S. 1496) passed, which allows existing conservation efforts to provide enhanced habitat for pollinators. In 2014 the NRDC submitted an emergency petition to the Environmental Protection Agency, saying the scientific evidence that pesticides are toxic to bees is very apparent and should move quickly to ban neonicotinoids. Even the clothing line J Crew has jumped on the “Save the Bees” campaign and created a t-shirt line in support of the cause. It’s not only big groups making efforts either. There are individual representatives pushing to pass the Highway BEE Act to increase suitable habitat along highway corridors throughout the United States. Some efforts, though, fall short and do not address the real issues.

Philips came out with conceptual “urban living hive kits” for those that wish to establish a colony on their rooftop. This is a great idea and an intriguing design, but there are not enough foraging plants to feed existing populations. How are new hives supposed to succeed if current populations are struggling? Between the lack of year-round food and removing too much honey from hives before winter, hive owners end up feeding colonies supplements, like multi-vitamins for bees. A person cannot get all their nutrition from supplements because they cannot replicate all of the nutrients and benefits of whole foods (Mayo Clinic, 2014). Why do we assume it is different for bees or any living thing for that matter? Not all supplements are created equal either. Some are very useful to bee keepers during winter months, but other commercial varieties do more harm than good. There should be more research and action toward properly regulating these types of substances and determining thresholds.

Although we often focus on declining populations, there are actually some winners in the fight against species loss. For instance, there is little talk about Africanized “killer” bee populations and their ability to withstand and respond to Varroa mite infestations. We need to look more at these “winners” and use them as case studies for conservation projects. There are complications to studying killer bees, but there is great potential to unlock new information that can help save other pollinators.

Africanized Honey Bee on left, European Honey Bee on right image: Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Africanized Honey Bee on left, European Honey Bee on right
image: Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Diversity is key and the lack of overall plant diversity is one of the main reasons for pollinator decline. Our food supply is in jeopardy and that alone should bring people together to push for action to help pollinators thrive. What if you went to Chipotle and there was no salsa or guacamole? You think carnitas coming off the menu is tragic, just wait and see the revised menu if bees perish. Vote with your dollar, do not buy plants or seeds with chemical treatments, and purchase food from establishments that source sustainable and local ingredients. Push for local legislation to support the same practices and to implement regulations that benefit pollinators. One person can make a difference, but together we can change the world.

by Danielle Bilot, Associate ASLA

One thought on “All Eyes on ‘Plan Bee’

  1. David Hopman, ASLA, PLA September 22, 2015 / 4:29 pm

    Great call to action. Every decision we make about plants has an impact. Incrementalism counts–be part of the solution!

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