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Protecting Pollinators

Picture of Protecting Pollinators DVD label"Protecting Pollinators" Video

"Protecting Pollinators" provides information about the importance of bees and other pollinators to Montana agriculture and to our food supply. This video features NRCS conservation programs and conservation practices that promote pollinator-friendly activities. Montana beekeeper, Greg Lemmons, also discusses threats such as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) faced by bees and beekeepers today.

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Protecting Pollinators (SWF; 14 minutes, 19 seconds; 97.4 MB)

The production is also available on DVD and can be requested by contacting publications. Be sure to include the title of the DVD and your mailing address with your request. A Transcript of "Protecting Pollinators" Video can be read on this Web page.

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Pollinator Information on Other Web Sites

Transcript of "Protecting Pollinators" Video

Eighty percent of the approximately 14-hundred seed plants grown around the world require pollination. In the United States alone pollination of agricultural crops is valued at approximately $10 billion a year. Globally these pollination services may be worth more than $3 trillion. Insect pollinated crops directly contribute $20 million dollars to the United States economy each year.

About three-quarters of the more than 240-thousand of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators to various degrees to carry pollen from the male to the female parts of flowers for reproduction. Pollinators are vital to agriculture because most fruit, vegetable, seed crops and crops that provide fiber, drugs, and fuel are pollinated. Globally, pollinators are fundamentally important for the production of a significant percentage of the human diet and most fibers, edible oils, alcoholic beverages, foods providing health benefits and medicine created from plants.

Bee-pollinated forage and hay crops, such as alfalfa and clover are also used to feed the animals that supply meat and dairy products.

Pollinators are bees, (there are by the way 19 thousand 436 named bee species in the world), moths, butterflies, hummingbirds, flies, beetles, wasps, mosquitoes, reptiles, bats and other mammals.

Pollinators are key to the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems because they enhance reproduction of native plants that provide food and cover for domestic livestock and numerous wildlife species.

Pollinated plants help stabilize the soil, and have the potential to improve water quality.

As a group, native pollinators are threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, disease, and parasites. And the effects of invasive species both as direct competitors and as negative influences upon pollinator habitat. These threats to the sustainability of native pollinators and their habitat have serious economic implications for native ecosystem diversity and stability for humans.

Responding to native pollinator threats, The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Montana is enhancing pollinator habitat by working with landowners using NRCS programs. The 2008 Farm Bill provides renewed focus on protecting pollinator habitat and offers help to producers who enhance habitat on cropland, pastureland, rangeland and forestland.

A provision in “Administrative Requirements for conservation programs” which applies to all applicable conservation programs encourages the Secretary of Agriculture to give priority to conservation program applications that provide pollinator habitat.

Pollinators have been added to the list of purposes for installing conservation practices.

Conservation programs are an important tool for creating, restoring and enhancing pollinator habitat quantity and quality.

Many native pollinator groups, particularly those important to agriculture are facing a serious risk of decline as a result of habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation.

Appropriate conservation programs can:

  • Promote the use of plant species mixes in conservation plantings to provide pollinator food and shelter.
  • Establish field borders, hedgerows and shelterbelts to provide habitat in proximity to crops.
  • Establish corridors that can expand and connect important habitat patches.

NRCS conservation programs help by sharing or contributing roughly half of the cost of installation.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) now includes forest management, pollinator habitat and organic production added as eligible activities.

The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) can help producers establish native species that are pollinator friendly.

Agriculture and forestlands provide a wealth of wildlife habitat and conservation programs helping improve the quality and connectivity of that habitat.

In Montana, producers who plant sequentially-blooming species to establish an array of plants that flower throughout the entire growing season can be provided extra ranking points for Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) applications. These plants not only provide a source of nectar for adult pollinators, but also provide a diversity of plants with soft stems that die back to the ground during the winter allowing immature pollinator life stages. The Montana NRCS recommends these plantings include at least one grass adapted to the site and at least one forb or shrub from each of three flowering categories; early, mid and late season. Montana has identified both native and introduced options, however the payments can be higher for the use of native species.

Increased habitat for pollinators will improve:

  • fruit set,
  • size and quality,
  • productivity-per-acre,
  • beneficial insect populations,
  • and the food base for many wildlife species.

The increased plant diversity of pollinator habitat will enhance wildlife habitat and may increase populations of other beneficial insects, reducing the need for pesticides. Pollinator habitat areas should be at least a half acre in size for each 40 acres of cropland, pastureland, rangeland or forestland. Lists of plants suitable for pollinator habitat in Montana are available from NRCS. Site preparation and plant establishment must meet NRCS conservation practices and specifications.

Practices that support development of pollinator friendly species include:

  • Channel bank vegetation
  • Critical area planting
  • Early successional habitat development and management
  • Field borders
  • Filter strips
  • Herbaceous wind barriers
  • Riparian herbaceous cover

Some tips for producers to enhance pollinator friendly projects:

  • Flowering plants can be started from seed; shrubs are better established by transplanting seedlings.
  • Test soils for drainage. Most of Montana’s native species will not do well in heavy, poorly drained or saline soils.
  • Match plants with similar site preferences. Choose plants that share similar light, soil, and water requirements and are adapted to the climate.
  • Water wisely. For the most successful establishment of any native shrubs, water weekly or bimonthly for the first two to three years until well established.
  • Control weeds. Most natives do not compete well with weeds. Start with a weed-free area and keep weeds to a minimum for the first two to three years of establishment.

Mowing weeds during herbaceous plant establishment will suppress competition and encourage desirable plants. Protect from deer or other wildlife. Fencing may be required in areas with high deer populations. Treatments with deer repellents may help protect new plantings. Plants that produce toxic nectar will not be planted. Management or maintenance activities such as mowing, haying, burning, or grazing must be conducted outside of the growing season or bloom period. Maintenance will be done on less than one-third of the acreage during any given year. Insecticides and herbicides should not be used in the habitat planting area. Even natural herbicides and botanical insecticides can harm bees and other pollinators.

If adjacent crop areas are treated use one or more of the following actions to limit insecticides in the pollinator habitat area:

  • Create insecticide-free buffers in the first 25 feet of crop area
  • Use application methods that minimize drift to adjacent habitat
  • Apply active ingredients in the evening when most insect pollinators are not active.

The planted habitat areas must be regularly inspected for invasive or noxious plants and other plants that may compromise the protection of pollinators. For complete information regarding available conservation programs, requirements and benefits visit your local NRCS Montana field office.

Honey bees enable the production of no fewer than 90 commercially grown crops. Colony Collapse Disorder (known as CCD), which is defined as the sudden die-off of honey bee colonies, appears to be occurring across the United States.

“It affects everybody, haven’t isolated anything. There’s a lot of research being done. Research takes a lot of money and beekeepers are pretty well funding it. It would be nice if we’d get some funding from the government for research. Hopefully they get more answers for us so we can keep the bees alive.”

In commercial bee keeping operations CCD has resulted in losses of 50 to 90% of managed colonies. No one is clear why this disorder occurs and extensive research is underway. CCD is a giant wake-up call that we can no longer take honey bees and other pollinators for granted.

“I think we stress bees way more than we ever did by putting them on the road. It’s not natural to pick a hive up and transport it. It’s not natural for the bees but the demand for pollinization requires it and we just can’t sit here and make a living on just our honey crop –we have to load them and move them.”

Due in part of the Colony Collapse disorder and to the continuing decline of pollinator bee numbers, Montana bee keepers are helping to meet an increasing need for pollinators in other states.

“Every year is different. In proportion I would say our pollinization, I don’t know what’s going to happen this year but in California, I would say probably the last year 3 or 4 years have been probably 2/3rds to 3/4ths of our gross income. We only go for the almonds. A lot of bee keepers will go for the almonds and truck the bees into Washington State for the cherries, the apples, and pears – you know a lot of your fruit –California, a lot of California beekeepers then they move onto some seed crops just like alfalfa seed, something like that – they move to the oranges for the orange honey which really don’t require them – most of all your melons, most of your vegetables need pollinators.”

Forces like habitat destruction, misuse of pesticides, invasive species, global warming, habitat fragmentation and other factors are placing pollinators at risk.

Since 1995 there has been the worst pollinator crisis in history.

“I think there’s a lot of it shipped and also I think a combination of the stress and also we don’t know what kind of viruses have came with them or these mites that have came in and just recently in the last two to three years that we’ve been isolating and found at least five different viruses that they have found on bees. How do we treat them? Is it something that has been there forever or is it something that’s been transferred like Veroa mites or the hive beetles or whatever other parasites we have. So it’s a little bit of a guessing game – the best we can do as beekeepers is to try to keep in touch with them."

Over the past quarter of a century declines in wild pollinator populations of various descriptions have also been reported in Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa and Australia.

Increased awareness and refocused efforts to protect and enhance pollinator habitat are efforts we can all make to lower the risks resulting from a decline in pollinators. In your yard or agricultural properties or privately owned lands plant native pollinator friendly plants and promote improving the awareness that pollinator declines is a critical concern today.