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Pollinators in trouble. What a city dweller can do.

I was disturbed to see yet more articles in the NY Times about bees and colony collapse.  I was a home beekeeper in CA since the mid-90’s.  When I moved to Wyoming, I gave that up in favor of not having lots of grizzlies in my yard. Being a horticulturist and amateur botanist, I was also interested in the general decline of pollinators and wrote an article in 1998 entitled Pollinators under Siege that I posted on my web page.

one of my hives

Honeybees are non-natives.  They are relied upon to pollinate our crops. Native bees and insects, in general, just can’t do as good a job on monocrops.  But honeybees also push out non-native bees.  They are up earlier and go out in mass.  When my honeybees were not doing  well due to mites, I’d always see more native bees move in to take up the space.

And although we need the honeybees, we also desperately need our native pollinators.  What many people don’t realize is that there are a myriad variety of insects that pollinate natives.  When I asked my botany teacher who specialized in California natives about their pollinators, he said that they don’t know what pollinates many California natives.  It’s very difficult to observe.

Death Valley flowering plant

One thing I learned in my profession is that the majority of people don’t even understand the basics of what pollination is.  Insects and flowering plants evolved together. Even some mammals and birds are important pollinators.  Entire ecosystems are built around these relationships.  Pollinators declining world wide means trouble for our planet’s health in ways just as impossible to calculate as climate change.

Frankly, it’s another overwhelming and make-one-feel-powerless problem, once you begin to dig into the complexity of the issue (see my article link or read The Forgotten Pollinators).  I’ve been passionate about this issue for a long time.   Here are my thoughts on what can be done individually and collectively.

1.  Rail against development!  Lack of community planning, lack of empty lots, and cookie cutter housing developments consumes habitat for native plant species and therefore specific pollinators.  Development should be:

a.  clustered

b.  planned so there are ‘hedgerows’ or a continuity of native species weaving in and around the development.  Lack of fencing allows for wildlife to wander about.  Lawns should be eliminated or kept to a minimum or replaced with native bunch grasses and native meadows.

Native Salvia

2.  Ban home vineyards!  I’m sorry, but this is so unnecessary.  Does everyone really need to have their own little home label.  People are cutting down native Oaks, clearing native trees and shrubs to put a monoculture in their backyard.

3.  Encourage large swaths of native trees and shrubs.  You can plant non-native gardens, but include natives.

4.  DO NOT use pesticides.  There is absolutely no need to use pesticides in the home garden.  This includes hiring a pest control service.  When you spray for spiders, you will be eliminating butterflies as well.  If you have a rat problem, encourage your neighborhood to use natural controls such as owl boxes and the old fashioned methods of traps.  Using a pesticide free method for controlling rodents helps the bobcat and mountain lion population as well.

5.  Put a bell on your cat or keep them indoors.  Too many birds are killed by cats yearly.  Hummingbirds are important pollinators.  Songbirds are dispersers of seeds.

6.  Realize that native pollinators cannot work in isolated ‘islands’ of plant communities.  How far can an insect travel to find another plant of the same species?  If plant communities are too spread out because of the concrete jungle, or suburbs full of pristine lawns and non-native species, these plants can’t be sufficiently pollinated to reproduce enough to continue the species.  We must have large enough habitat and/or corridors of habitat for plants and animals to travel through and sustain the ecosystem.  Work to protect large tracts of open space in your community for your own health and sanity, your children and their future enjoyment, and our ecosystems.  This open space should be undeveloped, not browsed by cattle nor full of lawns or athletic fields.

California poppies in bloom

What do the above recommendations have in common?  Working together as a community.  Its a good first step.