In May of 2015, the White House released a National Strategy to protect pollinators. The National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators outlined actions steps for federally managed lands, including expanding pollinator habitats and improving their quality, as well as creating a native seed reserve. The strategy is still intact under the current administration.
Soon after this strategy was published, in 2016 the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC), a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving and enhancing biodiversity on corporate lands, came out with a white paper directed at companies, Prioritizing Pollinators in Corporate America, encouraging businesses to align with the goals and guidance from the White House.
As this year's National Pollinator Week winds down, now is a good time for businesses to review these recommendations and put them into action. After all, the plight of the honey bee (and the other 200,000 species worldwide that pollinate) is ongoing.
In 2006, the state of honey bees was troubling. Experts began to notice the effects of colony collapse disorder (CCD), in which worker bees abandon their colonies. Researchers found that a variety of stressors were contributing to this abnormal phenomenon, and farmers began to take action to reduce many of these stressors, like pesticide use.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) noted in a recent blog post that no incidents of CCD have been reported in the past few years. However, the USDA writes, pollinators are at a crossroads. Efforts to reduce stressors like pests, habitat loss and climate variability must continue if we want to ensure pollinators will remain healthy.
Business participation is essential to fulfilling the coordinated national vision that is necessary to protect pollinators, many of which migrate across the continent each year.
Pollinators are vital to American business, especially agriculture. According to a White House Fact Sheet from 2014, pollinators contribute more than $24 billion to the U.S. economy. At least 90 crops grown commercially in North America would be nonviable without the activity of honey bees.
The 2015 White House National Strategy focuses on federal land, but also emphasizes the importance of public-private partnerships. The WHC’s white paper delves more deeply into the actions private corporations can take to fit into the strategy.
The paper opens by reiterating the three goals of the National Strategy. First, reduce the loss of honeybee colonies during the winter. Second, increase the Eastern population of the monarch butterfly. Third, restore or enhance 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years. Five years have passed. There is still work to be done.
The steps for businesses are concrete — in some cases they are small-scale — and very manageable. Companies can create pollinator gardens on their grounds. Specific designs and vegetation can attract species of concern like native bees or monarch butterflies. Milkweed, for example, helps monarch populations.
Companies can transform right-of-way (ROW) land, which often lies barren, into pollinator habitats. The WHC writes that ROW land for power lines alone has the potential to become 5 million acres of pollinator-friendly habitat. These medium-sized grounds can become important connectors between fragmented ecosystems. If managed correctly, ROW corridors can support rare bee species and connect otherwise fragmented habitats, thus increasing the populations of butterflies.
Even land requiring remediation can become a pollinator habitat. In coordination with the “green remediation” guidelines published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the WHC recommends using pollinator-friendly plants, which can save land managers maintenance costs and support the productive reuse of the property.
Of course, education is always an opportunity in the fight to protect pollinators. Businesses can host National Pollinator Week and National Public Lands Day events in their local communities. They can also train their employees and develop various programs with schools or local organizations.
However, a company that chooses to support pollinators and their habitats must inherently be individual. The pollinator gardens companies create will be unique to the land and the local species. Educational initiatives will be specific to the company, its mission and the needs of the community.
This expansion of the private component of protecting and restoring pollinators is essential to the success of the 2015 National Strategy. Company participation can expand local interest and awareness, and of course, habitat. Corporate action not only helps sustain the U.S. food economy; it can also physically and symbolically build the public-private relationships that are essential to fulfilling this national vision.
Image credit: Brian Lewis/Unsplash