By Lynn Betts
Declining numbers and dwindling habitat are still the case for crop pollinators in the United States, but there's also some good news for bees, butterflies, birds and other pollinators. "We're starting to make some progress in reversing downward pollinator trends," says Mace Vaughan, a pollinator specialist who works for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation based in Portland, Oregon.
"The 2008 Farm Bill put new emphasis on pollinator conservation," Vaughan says. "It led to building a national support structure for pollinator conservation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is extremely important. Now, every USDA conservationist and land manager has pollinators and their habitat on his or her priority list of resource concerns."
That extra attention has led to 60,000 acres of pollinator habitat contracted for the Conservation Reserve Program, among other things, Vaughan says. Equally as important, he says, is the technical expertise and training being developed jointly with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Vaughan, who's been with the Xerces Society for 11 years and has been serving as Joint Pollinator Conservation Specialist with NRCS since 2008, sees the attention pollinators are getting from USDA as crucial.
"We have to have the expertise and commitment at the local level," Vaughan says. "And I'm incredibly happy with the progress being made in that area. There's just a lot more information available to a farmer or rancher on pollinators from the local USDA office now than there was 5 to 10 years ago. Wherever you live, you can get good, solid information on what you can do on your land to help pollinators."
Vaughan says NRCS is incorporating pollinator strategies into current conservation practices and strategies. "They're working to increase the abundance of pollen and nectar with a diversity of plants that ensure blooming flowers from early spring until late fall, adding and protecting nesting sites of bees, and providing refuge from pesticides," Vaughan says. Localized pollinator guides, local training meetings, heavy use of the agency's Plant Materials Centers for demonstrations and plots, and other techniques are being used to increase technical assistance to local landowners. It's all part of the USDA structure that's resulting in "more conservationists and land managers getting engaged in pollinator conservation every year," Vaughan says.
"We're happy with the progress, but realize we still need to do more," Vaughan says. "We need to develop more tools for landowners, to do as much as we can to help them establish and evaluate habitat and management practices to help the pollinators that help all of us."
Betts writes from Johnston, Iowa.