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By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

As an urban environmentalist, I often find myself engaged in a hyper-conscious balancing act where I strive to prioritize meta issues of ecological import with the growing demands of the built environment. It requires a melding of world views and a mindful way of seeing, which mirrors the topography of any major city, layers upon layers of organic matter organized into neat and surreal spaces by use and design.  It’s a constant deconstruction of norms and assumptions in the service of holistic life.  Today, I’m curious about bees and what their survival means for the concrete nooks I call home.

Why should you care about pollinator protection?

The news is flush with information on the decline of bee colonies. Bees are dying off at an alarming rate thanks in no small part to insecticides and fungicides used on plants to prevent crop losses.  In particular, there is evidence that chemicals applied to signature US crops of modern American diet are linked to bee colony collapse.

What’s the big deal with bees?

bee-in-sweetpeaBees aren’t just the scourge of allergy allegory or the worry of weekend trips to sandy and grassy spaces. Bees are a landmark species. They are a marker of ecological health and an essential link in the food chain. Bees support hundreds of thousands of flowering plants through pollination and increase the yields of over ninety crops including but not limited to apples, blueberries, and cucumbers. Bee pollination forms the basis of growth for plants that quite literally provide us with lifesaving medicines. They cross-fertilize to give us a third of everything we eat.  Bees are the invisible engine of our agricultural system, which makes them kind of a big deal.

Predictions

The threat of a world without bees isn’t an abstract danger. A loss of wild and domestic bee colonies would affect the diversity and availability of foods available to the world population of roughly seven billion humans, which would feature approximately fifty percent of the fruit, vegetable, and agricultural food stores it now possesses. In short, what happens to them happens to us. Bees die off due to mass infections, susceptibility to poor nutrition, and illness from chemical exposure, and we do the same.

Responses and Solutions

Despite the bleak and dire forecast there are some plans in the works to address this issue and develop strategies to promote health of honeybees and other pollinators.  Our government is looking at the effects of large scale agricultural operations and related federal activities through the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. In collaboration with public and private partners EPA has developed a proposal to protect bees, bats, and monarch butterflies which aims to reduce colony losses over the next ten years and restore or enhance lands for pollination.

albina-34431284019348nlf4In particular, the EPA Plan looks to mitigate losses by focusing on commercial pollination through label restrictions which warn of effects, and pesticide application engagement programs which are administered through managed pollination protection plans aimed at farmers and food growers.  These plans focus on the operational relationships between beekeepers and landowners who work together when bees are brought onto big farms to pollinate commercially (raise your hand if you knew they did that!) where pesticides have been applied.

EPA’s plans for mitigation are designed to better assess risk to pollinators, reduce potential risk from toxics, engage state and tribal partners, and expedite review of the managed plans.

What can you do to help the bees?

This effort will take more than federal interagency input and cooperation. The EPA is looking for public comments on its plan.  In fact, the public comment period was recently extended to July 29, 2015, from the original closing date of May 29, 2015. So, Ecowomen take a look at the plan and submit comments on the overall proposal, make your voice heard on landowner and beekeeper local agreements, and ways to evaluate plans effectiveness to reduce risks to bees. Additionally, the EPA needs more information on systemic pesticides, microbial pesticides before it advises on label changes on the affected chemicals by 2016.

Additionally, if you too are an urban environmentalist you can do a few things in your local community to support pollination. On your next trip to the farmer’s market support and purchase honey from your local bee man or woman.  At home, you can make your green space, yard or terrace and pots friendlier to bees by planting rosemary, and flowering plants such as the Black Eyed Susan, and avoid using pesticides to grow them during the warmer months. And if you are really feeling the call to action call upon your local government, council or representative to push for wholesale bans of toxic chemical applications in your local, municipal gardens and greenspaces.

Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on social and environmental justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and Vermont Law School.  Tamara has been a DC EcoWomen Board Member on the Professional Development Team since August 2014. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads,  travel, and yoga.