April 14th, 2015
Somewhere along the road of growing up, many – if not most – children learn that bees are evil buzzing creatures that will sting you if given half a chance.
They’re pests to be swatted, certainly not to be welcomed or even tolerated in any civilized back yard.
So over the past two or three generations, humans have done an effective job at knocking back bee populations, not to mention many other bugs that dare to fly or crawl around our roses and azaleas.
It turns out our yard-sanitizing efficiency may be coming back to bite us instead of sting us.
Bee, butterfly and other pollinator populations have dwindled to the point where it’s starting to threaten food production and the prices tied to that.
Even at home, gardeners are starting to notice fewer berries on their ornamental plants and slimmer yields of tomatoes, cucumbers, blueberries and squash.
“I don’t believe the average person knows that moths, flies and native bees play a major role in pollination or the welfare of our ecosystem,” says Connie Schmotzer, a York County Extension educator who also works with Penn State University’s Center for Pollinator Research. “Getting folks to understand that very few insects do economic damage is difficult, especially in the face of the pesticide advertising out there.”
On the flip side, she cites research showing that one out of every three bites of food we eat can be traced to the work of pollinators.
Some of the pollinators’ plight is the result of the rampant roadside and backyard spraying we’ve been doing since World War II.
But loss of habitat is at least as big of a factor.
According to Monarch Watch, a non-profit organization set up to protect the monarch butterfly, up to 6,000 acres of U.S. land per day is converted to development.
That means acreage the size of Yellowstone National Park each year is changing from forests and meadows to office buildings, roads, parking lots and housing developments.
Even most home landscapes are of little value to pollinators because they’re heavily planted in lawn (with bee-attracting clover killed off) and in a relative few non-native plants (which pollinators can’t or won’t eat).