JoAnne Skelly: Protecting pollinators in a big way

Butterflies make excellent pollinators.

Butterflies make excellent pollinators.

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We just completed National Pollinator Week, a designation that recognizes all that pollinators do for our food supply, environment and economy. Last year the Obama administration released a “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators” led by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to a USDA fact sheet, “honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year.” Honey bees are of huge benefit, but so are native bees, other insect pollinators, birds and bats.

In 2015 beekeepers lost about 40 percent of honey bee colonies in the U.S. Another threatened pollinator, the Monarch butterfly, has declined by 90 percent in its winter habitats in Mexico. Local gardeners report seeing fewer bees on their fruit trees. Under the National Strategy, USDA is striving to create more healthy habitats for pollinators, do research to better understand the cause of population declines, and raise public awareness about steps we all can take to help boost pollinator numbers.

Fifteen million acres of privately owned land are now enrolled in conservation practices to benefit pollinators. USDA is working with the U.S. Geological Survey to study honey bees’ use of conservation covers and to assess the effectiveness of conservation efforts to help honey bees. USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service recently created the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Development Project to establish and improve butterfly habitat. The U.S. Forest Service is restoring and improving pollinator habitat on national forests and grasslands.

The Agricultural Research Service is examining bee genetics, biology, breeding and physiology, focusing on bee nutrition, pathogens and parasites as well as the effects of pesticide exposure. The University of Nevada has received funding to research treatment for a bacterial disease in honey bees. The National Agriculture Statistics Service, another branch of USDA, just released results of its first Honey Bee Colony Loss survey.

You can join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, a nationwide call to action to preserve and create gardens and landscapes that help bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other pollinators.

To do your part, start with a sunny location protected from strong wind with a nearby source of water. Native plants with different flower shapes and colors that supply nectar and pollen are ideal. However, many common ornamentals also feed pollinators. It is critical to avoid using pesticides throughout your yard. For more information on pollinators and what you can do in your own landscape and community go to University of Nevada Cooperative Extension has two excellent publications on native plants for pollinators. Go to

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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