pollinators

EPA Researchers in Duluth Profiled by White House for Protecting Honey Bee Habitat

By Lek Kadeli

About 10 years ago, EPA’s Research Laboratory in Duluth, Minnesota, turned 1.9 acres of manicured lawn back into native prairie, seeded with native grasses and wildflowers. This lab, recognized across the scientific community, centers its research on the effects of pollution and chemical exposures on the environment – particularly aquatic ecosystems, fish and wildlife.

The results of restoring the prairie have been inspiring. The lab saves $3,500 in maintenance costs every year, and EPA staff get to see butterflies, birds and spring and summer blooms that brighten their workdays. Instead of the periodic roar of lawnmowers, they can stroll the grounds during their breaks in quiet solitude, maybe even catching an occasional glimpse of deer, fox and other wildlife.

These 1.9 acres of prairie have also provided an important place for bees and other pollinators to thrive – and this relationship between the pollinators flying about and the habitat of native plants recently caught the attention of the White House. EPA’s Duluth Lab was highlighted in the recently-released White House document, Supporting the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. The document supports President Obama’s memorandum recognizing the critical role pollinators play in food production and our economy.

Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to the nation’s agricultural crops each year, but populations of honey bees and other pollinators have declined over the past 50 years. EPA has taken a number of actions to protect pollinators – and there’s more to come.

There will be two listening sessions in the Washington, DC metro area, on November 12th and November 17th, where people can provide input into a federal strategy to be developed by the National Pollinator Health Task Force. The task force is co-chaired by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Key parts of the strategy will include a research action plan, public-private partnerships, public education about the importance of a healthy environment that includes pollinators, and ways to increase and improve pollinator habitat. Learn more about the listening sessions here.

The EPA has a vital part to play in protecting bees and other pollinators. Some lucky employees looking for inspiration for their work can get it just by stepping away from their desks for a stroll.

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 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?

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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 http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/controlling/garden.htm.

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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