Cross-posted from the Department of Interior blog:
From birds and bees to butterflies, bats and beetles, pollinators are a diverse group and are critically important to terrestrial life on our planet. Without our help, however, their populations will continue to decline as a result of numerous stressors including loss of habitat, pests and pathogens, and exposure to pesticides.
Bees and other pollinators are essential to America’s agricultural economy and maintain the beauty of our iconic landscapes. Without them, we wouldn’t have most of our vegetables, flowers, fruits or nuts. Honey-bee pollinations alone contribute more than $15 billion in value to U.S. agricultural production each year, but beekeepers reported losing just over 23 percent of honey bee colonies last winter. Other pollinators that help sustain food production and the environment—such as native bees and bats—also are declining.
This week, people all across the country are promoting ways to address this crisis. A nation-wide effort, National Pollinator Week (June 15-21), calls attention to the steps everyone–from government to private sector to individual citizens–can take to protect and restore pollinator populations.
Here in the federal government, we are taking a number of steps to improve pollinator health. Last month, President Obama issued the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. The national strategy calls for various federal actions with the goals of reducing honey-bee losses, increasing populations of monarch butterflies and increasing habitat for these and other pollinators. It specifically directs federal agencies to work together with university, nonprofit and corporate partners to restore or enhance seven million acres of pollinator habitat over the next five years.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior will play critical roles in reaching this habitat goal. A wide range of USDA programs facilitate agricultural production and manage our national forests, while Interior oversees more than 500 million acres of public land, including national parks, species-sustaining wildlife refuges and magnificent recreational areas. These are key areas where pollinator populations can flourish.
As part of the national strategy, USDA and Interior have issued Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices for Federal Lands as well as departmental plans for protecting pollinator populations on federal lands. USDA has restored hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat on national forests and grasslands, in conservation reserves, and through incentives for farmers.
Interior is taking steps to restore or enhance native pollinator habitat on wildlife refuges and plans to use pollinator-friendly vegetation during restoration and post-fire activities on other public lands. National parks are educating visitors and communities about the importance of pollinators–up to 400 parks will hold citizen-engagement activities and dispatch youth ambassadors to schools.
USDA and DOI are among the major players in the national strategy’s Pollinator Research Action Plan, conducting a variety of pollinator-related scientific studies. Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey has a new pollinator research web site.
People of all ages and communities are also key to providing habitat for pollinators. For example, home gardens designed to attract bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, can play a huge role in reversing population declines. They’ll also encourage the next generation of gardeners to nurture the land.
Many organizations in the private sector are taking steps to help make it easier for community members to do their part. One such company is W. Atlee Burpee & Co., which worked with the National Park Service (NPS) to create a pollinator-friendly seed packet. Tailored for use in home and school gardens—not in parks and refuges, which aim to preserve native species—the packet contains 21 flower varieties that bloom early and late in the season to extend available nectar for bees, butterflies, moths and birds.
Working with USDA and NPS, Burpee has donated a million of these pollinator-friendly Bee and Butterfly Garden packets to educational programs, community and non-profit groups around the nation. If you are a teacher or youth leader in the contiguous 48 states and would like seed packets to start your school or community garden, you can find more information on how to request a free box of seeds from the NPS.
By making your home or school garden friendly to pollinators, you can be a part of the international effort to keep beauty in the air and food on our tables.