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The Secret Life of Pollinators

Pollinators such as bees, butterflies, birds, and bats are vital to the American landscape—playing an important role in food production, healthy and diverse ecosystems, and vibrant communities. In recent years, these essential species have suffered population losses, due in part to loss of habitat, bee pests, and parasites. This situation gained notice in late 2006, as some commercial beekeepers began reporting sharp declines in their honeybee colonies. Given the severity and unusual circumstances of these colony declines, scientists named the new phenomenon colony collapse disorder (CCD). According to the Congress Research Service (CRS), honeybee colonies have continued to decline each year, for reasons not solely attributable to CCD. Other factors that may impact bee health are the loss of habitat and other environmental or biological stressors, including loss of foraging areas, interspecific competition between honeybees and native bees, pathogen spillover effects, and climate change.

In the United States alone, the value of insect pollination to the nation’s agricultural production is estimated at $16 billion annually, of which about three-fourths is attributable to honeybees. Globally, the impact of bees and other pollinators to worldwide crop production for human food is valued at about $190 billion. Given the importance of honeybees and other bee species to food production, policy makers, stakeholders, and the general public have expressed concern about whether a “pollinator crisis” has been occurring in recent decades.

The Pollinator Partnership (P2), an active voice to promote the health of pollinators critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education, and research is working with Representatives Alcee Hastings (FL) and Jeff Denham (CA) on legislation to protect, preserve, and increase pollinators in transportation rights-of-way. H.R. 4790, the Highways Bettering the Economy and Environment Act (Highways BEE Act), supports pollinators such as honeybees and native pollinators, birds, bats, and butterflies and their essential role to healthy ecosystems and American agriculture. The legislation also highlights the extreme population losses of pollinators, and provides for existing authorizations and funding sources to incorporate integrated vegetation management practices along America’s highway rights-of-way. H.R. 4790 outlines achievable benefits through integrated vegetation management (IVM) practices that can significantly reduce mowing and maintenance cost for state DOTs and help create habitat, forage, and migratory corridors that will contribute to the health of honeybees, monarch butterflies, and other native pollinators.

To help P2 build momentum for the legislation, ASLA joined with more than 200 organizations on a sign-on letter to legislators supporting H.R. 4790 and the benefits pollinators play in the national economy. ASLA’s efforts also include recommendations to the White House on how to improve the nation’s pollinator population—outlining how landscape architects use design and ingenuity to ensure vibrant IVM practices throughout America.

During National Pollinator Week (June 16–22), President Obama authored a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies regarding a national strategy to promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators. The directive outlined the vital role and contributions of pollinators and their value to the nation’s economy—adding more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States. President Obama outlined steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore pollinator populations to healthy levels—directing federal agencies to:
• Establish a Pollinator Health Task Force: Cochaired by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the task force shall also include the heads, or their designated representatives, from an array of federal agencies with a direct or indirect impact on pollinators.

• Outline Mission and Function of the Task Force: Within 180 days of the date of the memorandum, the task force is directed to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, which shall include explicit goals, milestones, and metrics to measure program progress.

• Increasing and Improving Pollinator Habitat: Within 180 days of the date of the administration memorandum, the task force member agencies shall develop and provide to the task force plans to enhance pollinator habitat, and subsequently implement, as appropriate, such plans on their managed land and facilities. The task force member agencies shall evaluate permit and management practices on power line, pipeline, utility, and other rights-of-way and easements, and, consistent with applicable law, make any necessary and appropriate changes to enhance pollinator habitat on federal lands through the use of integrated vegetation and pest management and pollinator-friendly best management practices.

President Obama also included an ASLA recommendation in his directive, which calls on the Council on Environmental Quality and the General Services Administration to revise their respective guidance documents for designed landscapes and public buildings to help foster pollinators and their habitats. Specifically, the guidance documents should promote the creation and maintenance of high-quality habitats for pollinators.

ASLA applauds President Obama’s efforts to improve the nation’s pollinator population and will continue to work with the administration, legislators, and other stakeholders to ensure inclusion of landscape architecture principles and practices to improve America’s pollinators. If you have any questions or comments regarding pollinators, the Highways BEE Act, or the president’s memorandum, please contact the ASLA Government Affairs team at

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