Pollinators are under huge amounts of stress, struggling to survive as habitats are destroyed, systemic pesticides are applied to crops, and climate change throws off once-reliable weather patterns. Now, a new bill hopes to give these essential insects and animals a boost.
The bill, introduced Thursday by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), would increase funding and improve cooperation among federal agencies that are working on getting pollinator numbers back up. If signed into law, the bill would set a goal for the USDA and other agencies of conserving, restoring, or enhancing 3 million acres of forage habitat — i.e. fields of flowering plants and shrubs — a step towards the goal of 7 million acres of pollinator habitat set by the White House in 2014. It would also create more financial incentives for farmers to plant bee-friendly plants — including wildflowers, sunflowers, buckwheat, and native grasses — and using natural predators, instead of pesticides, to ward off pests. And it would create grant opportunities to fund programs that monitor pollinator health and numbers.
“It’s easy to forget about the critical role pollinators play in our food systems,” Merkley said in a statement. “But if we’re not careful, we will only realize their importance when it’s too late and our agricultural industry has been decimated by their disappearance. Let’s take action now instead.”
Merkley is right: Pollinators play an essential part in getting food on the plates of Americans — and people around the world. According to a report released earlier this year, 75 percent of global food crops depend on pollination, and $235–$577 billion worth of these crops are affected by pollinators every year. Some crops depend on highly specialized pollinators, and would cease to exist without them: The chocolate midge, for instance, is the only insect that can pollinate the cacao plant.
This week in particular — dubbed National Pollinator Week by the USDA and Department of Interior — has been a major one for pollinator activists. On Wednesday, Minnesota beekeeper James Cook parked a truck full of millions of dead bees outside of the Environmental Protection Agency, a stop that marked the end of the bus’s country-wide tour. He and other activists also delivered a 4-million-signature petition to the EPA, urging the agency to ban neonicotinoids and other bee-harming pesticides.
Protesters rally outside the EPA on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. CREDIT: courtesy of Friends of the Earth.
“We are, I think, uniquely in the history of the human species blind and deaf to signals that nature is giving us that things are going haywire,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said at a briefing on pollinators Wednesday, where a shortened version of the movie was shown. “We need to learn to pay attention.”
We best stop being blind to this particular problem, or we’re all going to smack right into the “hey, there’s no food!” wall. Full story at Think Progress.