Pollinator Week Had My Mind Abuzz

By Isabella Bennett

Last month’s pollinator protection week (June 16-22) got my mind buzzing, thinking about popular attitudes toward bees and other pollinators. Sadly, too many people fear, rather than appreciate, our busy little friends. Let me give you an example.

One spring afternoon, my friends and I were sitting outside our campus coffee shop talking about the latest bio exam when a big ol’ bee came buzzing around. When the bee flew just a bit too close to my friend’s nose, she leapt from her chair, grabbed her purse, and began frantically swatting and shrieking.  Needless to say, everyone nearby enjoyed the show. I couldn’t stop giggling as I led her back to her seat, allowing the bee to continue on her way. That day, I witnessed one pollinator in particular need of some protection!

My friend and many others fail to realize that many pollinators are pivotal to our environment and our national economy, and they need our protection.

Each year, pollinator week marks a time when we all should spread awareness and educate friends, family, and ourselves about the importance of pollinators – bees, butterflies, beetles, birds, bats, and others.  For example, they currently pollinate about one-third of the food we eat. Moreover, they’re accountable for 75% of all flowering plants! Recently, there have been declines in pollinator health because of habitat loss, disease, and pesticides. That’s why now is the time to bring as much awareness to the issue as possible.

There are steps you can take right now to help our pollinators. One of their main challenges is habitat loss; by planting native flowering plants, shrubs, and trees in our backyards, gardens and schools, you can create perfect rest stops and pollen refueling stations.  Another step you can take is reducing pesticide use, especially trying integrated pest management. If you do need to use a pesticide, pay particular attention to label directions; they explain how to safely use it and ultimately protect our pollinators and our environment.

Take a moment sometime this week to appreciate what pollinators do for you and consider what you could be doing for them.  I know I will.

About the author: Isabella Bennett is Environmental Business major at Texas A&M University.  She works as a summer intern in the Communications Services Branch in EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. 


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Control Mosquitos & Protect Bees – We Need to Do Both

Did you know that in 1906 more than 85% of Panama Canal workers were hospitalized with mosquito-borne yellow fever and malaria? That was an extreme public health crisis. But don’t we all know someone who has personally experienced the devastating impacts of Lyme disease or West Nile virus?

Slug on a soybean. Photo credit: Nick Sloff

Sometimes we need insecticides to control pests and prevent disease to protect our health. But sometimes these same insecticides can be hazardous to bees, which are essential for growing crops and ensuring a wholesome, healthy food supply.

How do we protect public health from the threat of mosquito-borne illnesses, and at the same time protect bees? How do we balance the need for pesticides to control pests that wreak havoc on our crops, and prevent unintended consequences to our health and environment?


Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Pollinator Protection—Spreading the Word

Just as I finished mowing my lawn last month, a neighbor strolled over and commented on what appeared to be a half-done job. “Looks like you missed a few spots,” he commented wryly.

My neighbor is a retiree who mows his two-acre plot twice per week. Though he’s tolerant of weeds and other “imperfections,” its overall height is closely maintained; dandelion, clover, and other “weedy” blooms never last long. His comment about my lawn, while delivered with a smile, was also a friendly nudge—peer pressure, perhaps—to get me to comply with modern social norms regarding landscaping.

He wasn’t wrong about me missing a few spots. In fact, his comment was wonderfully understated. There are seemingly random patches in my lawn that I hadn’t mowed in weeks. But rather than firing up my mower and bringing my yard into monotonous harmony with everybody else, I shared my personal pollinator protection plan.

close-up image of a bee on a flowerI explained about the plight of pollinators, including the widely publicized issue known as Colony Collapse Disorder. I mentioned that honey bees are having a tough time, and noted that I don’t see as many of them now as I used to. My neighbor’s face lit up. Apparently, a few months ago he was talking to an amateur beekeeper friend, who commented that he’s down to only one hive now where he used to have five. “The fella said he doesn’t have any idea what’s happening to his bees,” my neighbor said, “but it’s interesting you should bring that up.”

I continued by observing that a lawn devoid of blooms is a barren desert to honey bees and other pollinators, which brought us back around to my somewhat unkempt yard. What looks like random patches of unmown lawn are actually thick patches of clover that I allow to bloom. I only mow them when the blooms fade and begin to transform into seeds. Doing so seems to bring on a new blush of fresh, white blossoms. I also pointed out that since I stopped mowing weekly, other wildflowers have sprung up, and the place is abuzz with various six-legged visitors.

Imagine my surprise when I noticed a sort of shagginess to parts of my neighbor’s formerly uniform lawn the following week! Not only was clover blooming in patches, my neighbor had even one-upped me by planting a half-dozen flowering trees!

Now, if only I could figure out how to get him to apply that friendly peer pressure on our other neighbors in favor of this bee-friendly approach, this could be the start of something big!

For additional environmentally-focused lawn care tips, see

About the Author: Quentin Borges-Silva works in communications for EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs and is a member of the Agency’s Pollinator Protection Team. He’s also the Bicycle Coordinator for the Pesticide Program, helping co-workers “protect human health and the environment” by biking to work.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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It’s More Than The Birds and the Bees

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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Judging from previous blogs, there’s quite a bit of interest and concern towards the apparent lack of butterflies this summer. Yet we haven’t addressed something even potentially more worrisome—honeybees. The situation has been identified as the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The disappearance of these pollinators could have serious repercussions on U.S. agriculture and ultimately the entire food supply. Experts still do not know the exact cause for the vanishing of the honeybees. Among the theories considered are: invasive parasitic mites, new and emerging diseases, pesticide poisoning, poor nutrition and I’ve even read some articles that attribute the situation to climate change.

Nonetheless, EPA, USDA, universities and the private sector have moved into action. The Agency is addressing the CCD through regulatory and voluntary programs. And it’s actively participating in the Colony Collapse Disorder Steering Committee and Working Group. One of the many collaborative efforts to address the issue has been a partnership between the Agency and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.

As I’ve been reading up more on this crisis, images of childhood–my grandfather with a hat and a veil tending to the bee colonies in his farm in Guayama, Puerto Rico come to mind. I also remember eating sticky, deliciously sweet, fresh honey. More recently, my daughter’s boyfriend, Scott, concerned over the CCD decided to take a beekeeping class by the Bowie Upper Marlboro Beekeepers Association (BUMBA) at Watkins Park Nature Center in Maryland. Both he and his brother started raising bees in their backyard in March. They started with one box and in June added a second one on top for them to expand. Scott hasn’t had any major problem and only one bee sting while working on the hive. The bees have made some honey, but he’s trying to save it for the winter. That will be the real test to his success so far.

While I haven’t taken the challenge to set up my own bee colony, I’ve been trying to use greenscaping techniques to minimize the use of pesticides in my garden. Overall, integrated pest management principles both at home and in agriculture, can go a long way to protect the ecosystem of these invaluable pollinators. We can’t live without them. So don’t just buzz by this blog, help to take action.

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Va más alla de las aves y abejas

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Juzgando por el interés de previos blogs, hay muchas personas preocupadas por la aparente falta de mariposas este verano. Sin embargo, todavía no hemos abordado un tema de mayor preocupación—las abejas de miel. La situación se ha identificado como el desorden del colapso de colonias (CCD, por sus siglas en inglés). La desaparición de estos polinadores podría causar serias repercusiones en la agricultura de Estados Unidos y en la totalidad del suministro de alimentos.

Los expertos aún no conocen la causa exacta de la desaparición de las abejas de miel. Algunas teorías son: pequeños ácaros parasíticos invasivos, nuevas enfermedades, el envenenamiento por pesticidas, la pobre nutrición y algunos artículos incluso atribuyen la situación al cambio climático.

Mientras tanto, EPA, el Departamento de Agricultura Federal, las universidades y el sector privado han entrado en acción. La Agencia está tratando el tema mediante programas de regulaciones y voluntarios. También está participando activamente en el Comité Timón y Grupo de Trabajo sobre el Desorden del Colapso de Colonias. Uno de los muchos esfuerzos colaborativos para abordar este asunto es el consorcio entre la Agencia y la Campana de Protección de Polinadores de Norte América. []

Mientras voy leyendo más sobre la crisis, surgen las imágenes de mi infancia en Puerto Rico—mi abuelo con su sombrero especial cuidando de las abejas en su finca en Guayama, Puerto Rico. También me recuerdo comer la miel fresca, pegajosa y deliciosamente dulce…Recientemente, Scott, el novio de mi hija, preocupado por el colapso de colmenas decidió toma una clase para criar abejas que ofrece la Asociación de Apicultores de Upper Marlboro (BUMBA, por sus siglas en inglés) en el Centro de Naturaleza del Parque Watkins en Maryland. Tanto él como su hermano empezaron a cultivar las abejas en su patio en marzo. Comenzaron con una caja y en junio añadieron una más como una extensión para que las abejas pudieran expandir la colmena. Scott no ha tenido problemas en esta empresa y sólo una abeja lo ha picado. Las abejas han producido miel, pero él quiere conservarla para el invierno. Esa será la prueba real.

Mientras no ha tomado el reto de desarrollar mi propia colonia de abejas, estoy tratando de usar técnicas de jardinería verde para minimizar el uso de plaguicidas en mi jardín. Sobre todo, los principios para el manejo integrado de plagas tanto en el hogar como en la agricultura pueden contribuir enormemente a la protección del ecosistema de estos valiosos polinadores. No podemos vivir sin ellos. No ignoren este blog. Por favor, tomen acción.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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