Earth Week Guest Post: Our Future Flies on the Wings of Pollinators

By Laurie Davies Adams, executive director, Pollinator Partnership
Apr 19, 2016 4:15 PM ET

By Laurie Davies Adams, executive director, Pollinator Partnership

Midday on spring days, I look out the window in my downtown San Francisco office and wait a few moments. Soon I will spot a sunny yellow shape darting above the traffic. The Western Tiger Swallowtail, a magnificent local butterfly species, scours the city in search of nectar sources. Its bright buttery wings cut through the air as it swoops, meanders, dives, and finally alights on the London plane tree across from my office. This amazingly ambitious activity never ceases to delight me. Nature is waiting just outside my window in the heart of the city! I feel at once inspired by the work we do at Pollinator Partnership and eager to ensure that others can experience this touch of wildlife not only on wild areas, rural farms, and suburban gardens, but also amidst the urban concrete hardscape. 

Making sure that pollinators are fed is part of my job, and it’s an important consideration for nearly everyone who eats! You depend on pollinators for up to a third of the food you consume every day. Pollinating species, like bees, beetles, birds, and also butterflies, play a vital role in ensuring the health of our environmental and food systems. Nearly 1,000 of crop plant species and nearly 70 percent of all flowering plants rely on animal pollinators to help increase genetic diversity and set seeds. Pollinators do mighty work, and in many places around the globe they are showing disturbing signs of decline. We all can play a role in active conservation of pollinator habitat to ensure that the flowering plants of the world continue to reproduce, for the benefit of pollinators and ourselves!

The fact is that all landscapes have the potential to be multi-purposed to include pollinator benefits. Here are just a few ways:

1. Pollinator plantings enrich the work environment. Far from being sites where one might get “stung” (an objection we sometimes hear), pollinator habitats create spaces where bees are occupied gathering resources and keeping plants healthy.

2. Pitching in for pollinators makes an impact well beyond the habitat itself. Honey bees can forage up to 2 miles from the hive. They are spreading pollinating services well beyond the boundaries of your corporate campuses. Your pollinator habitat helps the whole community.

3. Planting and managing landscapes for healthy pollinators really works – if you plant it, they will come. Seeing the arrival of hummingbirds, butterflies and bees is just a matter of upgrading your landscape management – often at a cost savings. And the thrill of that arriving fauna can enrich people’s experience every day, just like it does in my downtown SF streetscape all spring and summer. 

For the past 20 years the Pollinator Partnership has operated as a center for active conservation of the little-known and largely under-valued ecosystem service called animal pollination. In two short decades Pollinator Partnership has rallied the voices of the environmental, scientific, and business communities to increase sound policies, research, conservation, education and partnerships that support the invaluable contributions of a vast army of tiny and often unseen supporters of ecological and agricultural stability.

The Pollinator Partnership message has taken root in homes, schools, offices and government agencies across the continent and around the globe. In fact, we at Pollinator Partnership worked with the Obama Administration to introduce the very first Presidential Memorandum on Pollinators that launched a government plan across all agencies to put pollinator health into government land management actions.  General Motors is playing a role in that plan through the efforts of Susan Kelsey and her engagement in the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign by helping to assess the acres available on corporate landscapes that are engaged in the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development. GM holds an enviable portfolio of on-the-ground actions in support of pollinator habitat and health that have been certified by the Wildlife Habitat Council.

To change the pollinator prognosis and to ensure our own future will require multiple actions, without which many pollinators – and the work they do – will be lost. It has been established in the scientific community that crashes in populations and diversity of bees and butterflies are the result of several assaults, each of which must be corrected. These include eliminating the effects of pesticide misuse, increasing pollinator habitat, reducing infestations of parasites and pathogens, expanding and refining genetic diversity in breeding stock, and modifying the demands of agriculture and development on landscapes.

As we approach P2’s 8th annual Pollinator Week on June 20-26, the general public is beginning to recognize not only the importance, but also the fragility of pollinating species. The simple action of a pollinator visiting a flower is far from simple in its impact. Keeping that miracle going in the myriad of incredible ways it happens every day is a complicated, but quite achievable conservation adventure. General Motors and Pollinator Partnership are joined in leading that journey forward.