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Help Pollinators Help You

For most Americans, pollen means allergies and bees mean stings. Bees and pollen should mean much more to us because one out of every three bites of food we take is made possible by a pollinator. Pollinators play a tremendous economic role. The problem is that too many people see the pollination process as a free service from nature. Most people don’t know the unprecedented threats facing wild and managed pollinators worldwide.

Managed honey bee colonies have shrunk by 25 percent since 1990, and there are fewer bee hives in the United States than at any time in the past 50 years. For more than a decade, biologists have documented declines in populations of migratory pollinators including butterflies, bats, and birds. Habitat loss, excessive exposure to agrichemicals, the spread of diseases, parasitic mites, and the invasion of African honey bees are commonly cited as the causes of what has been called an impending pollination crisis.

Pollinators are particularly important to fruit, vegetable, and nut growers. These crops are valued at billions of dollars. California producers rent half a million bee hives a year for almond trees alone.

On your land, there are several things you can do to help pollinators.

Don’t disturb wild areas. Bumblebees nest in old mouse nests found in grassy areas and other bees nest in dead wood.

Plant pollinator friendly crops. Clovers, alfalfa, trefoils, and other legumes enrich and protect the soil and are pollinator favorites. A number of commercially available cultivars of native plants are also valuable to pollinators. Plant a group of species that will flower for as long as possible throughout the growing season.

Use conservation buffers. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers several programs that will aid pollinators by providing habitat through contour strips, grassed waterways, hedgerows, stream buffers, filter strips, and windbreaks. These plantings can also be located within the field that needs the services of pollinators.

Let plants bloom. Try to time mowing, tilling, or grazing management decisions so that plants have the opportunity to bloom.

Time pesticide application. Your pesticide label lists bee toxicity and residual time.

For more information about conservation practices that can improve wildlife habitat on your land, stop at the local NRCS office.

Wildlife Ways

Did you know....
A bee's wings vibrate about 435 times a second. More than 75 percent of the crop plants that feed the world, and many plant-derived medicines in our pharmacies, rely on pollination by insects or other animals for healthy fruit development.

References

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Montana Native Plants for Pollinator-Friendly Plantings (PDF; 1.3 MB)