How President Obama Can Walk the Talk for National Pollinator Week

Pollinators Monarchs - Picture By: Gary Nabhan

Pollinators Monarchs

It’s already the Friday of National Pollinator Week, and the White House has been peculiarly silent about the status of its big pollinator recovery initiative that several environmental and corporate websites predicted would be announced today. While the Pollinator Partnership and Congressional Pollinator Protection Caucus will announce at an invitation-only Longworth Congressional Building reception a Bees for Business corporate initiative and update invitees on the progress of the Highway BEE Act proposal now in Congress, something seems be missing.

We have heard two different perspectives on what may or may not be happening during National Pollinator Week. We neither endorse nor condemn either viewpoint, but simply wish to acknowledge that they are part of the current debate:

1. One view is that while agriculture and industry representatives are ready to embrace the honeybee issue, invest and work toward on- ground solutions, they have not yet decided what they can tangibly do about the monarch butterfly and bumblebee declines which have been just as precipitous as those of honeybees, since they do not see those floral visitors as economically important as honeybees are to agriculture. Most non-profits and university researchers wish to see a broad emphasis on the health of habitats for a variety of pollinators rather than a limited focus on “bee health care” as if bee declines are merely a “biomedical issue” of eliminating parasites and diseases from managed bee colonies.

2. Another view is that the increasing number of technical papers in refereed science journals concluding that there are serious impacts of neonicotinoid pesticides on bees and glyphosate herbicides on milkweeds (and therefore on butterflies) has divided the scientific and corporate communities in their responses to these crises. Some want only to work on habitat restoration while others prefer to work on the reduction of herbicide and pesticide use.

Whatever the cause of the slower roll-out of the White House Pollinator Recover Initiative, we feel there are five tasks that the White House, Congress and federal agencies can embrace without seeing stakeholders further divided in their support of pollinator recovery:

1. Designate a landscape-level monarch and bee habitat recovery collaborative initiative to work across the entire Midwestern summer breeding grounds of monarchs, and use CRP and EQIP funds to ramp up native perennial wildflower (including milkweed) seeding initiatives on private farms and ranches where there are willing participants. These plantings can be designed to help monarchs, other butterflies in decline, as well as bumblebees and honeybees.

2. Direct the state offices of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service to work with state agricultural commissions and land grant universities to undertake a state-by-state pollinator risk assessment that looks at existing all threats to bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, bats and other wildlife that visit native species of concern and agricultural crops.

3. Give incentives to companies managing railroad right-of-way, electric line and natural gas pipelines to plant butterfly-and-bee forages along north-south corridors from Texas through the Midwest, and east-west corridors from the Intermountain West to the Pacific coast overwintering areas for monarchs.

4. Direct the BLM Seeds of Success program engaged with native seed collection to work more closely with the NRCS Plant Materials Centers, the nursery and seed industries and the Federal Highway Authority to ramp up seed availability and planting of milkweeds and other native wildflowers appropriate to each particular locality along interstate highways, placing a Monarch Way Station at each rest area.

5. Deal with some of the root causes of pollinator declines by investing more USDA research and extension efforts in integrated weed management strategies that begin to reduce untargeted herbicide use in ways that are cost-effective for farmers and right-of-way managers to adopt, and that can be taught through farmer-to-farmer training.

 

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For further discussion, contact Gary Paul Nabhan, PhD. gpnabhan@email.arizona.edu. Make Way for Monarchs, and Dr. Orley “Chip” Taylor, Monarch Watch, chip@ku.edu.

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