Insect habitat campaigns reaching goals

Bees and monarch butterflies depend on disappearing habitat and campaigns to plant more are getting a lot of attention

A 4-H campaign to encourage Canadians to plant bee- and butterfly-friendly flowers has already hit its 2016 goal.

The program, dubbed ‘Proud to Bee a 4-H’er’ has distributed packets of flower seeds that provide pollinator habitat to 120 registered clubs across the country, in partnership with crop protection and life science company Syngenta.

4-H spokesperson Elizabeth Jarvis said since 2014 the campaign has seen more than 100,000 seed packets distributed.

She said the campaign aims to help 4-H club members “… learn about bees and other pollinators by planting and tending pollinator-friendly gardens in their communities.”

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Habitat and food sources are among the most important factors contributing to healthy bee populations, said Paul Hoekstra, Syngenta Canada’s regulatory and science stewardship manager.

“This initiative provides a fun and meaningful way for young people to help promote pollinator health while learning about the important and essential role of pollinators in agriculture and other ecosystems,” Hoekstra said.

In a report last year on the health of Canada’s pollinator population, the Senate agriculture committee said “bees need help in the form of a more nurturing environment.” One of its recommendations was “for improving the floral diversity of the Canadian landscape to enhance bee nutrition.”

The report asked the government to respond to its nine recommendations, which also included an end to conditional pesticides registrations and closer monitoring of the health of bee populations.

The Harper government didn’t get around to responding before the federal election. The committee asked the new government for some answers and they’re due in late June, said committee spokesperson Kevin Pittman. The government has already said conditional registrations will be phased out.

The Senate report noted that pollinators “play an important role in the environment, food and seed production, and honey production in Canada.

“They provide an important ecosystem service in the reproduction of plants. About one-third of the human diet comes directly or indirectly from insect-pollinated plants. The commercial value of bees to crop pollination in Canada is estimated at over $2 billion annually,” the report reads.

In a parallel campaign, the David Suzuki Foundation is offering packages of milkweed seeds to help the struggling monarch butterfly population. It wants Canadians to plant milkweed in their yards, parks and schoolyards this spring with its third annual campaign, said spokesperson Jode Roberts.

“Monarch butterflies had a good winter, but they remain perilously close to extinction,” Roberts said. “Planting milkweed and other pollinator-friendly plants is the best way citizens across the country can help bring them back.”

While the number of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico was 3.5 times higher this winter than last, populations have declined by more than 80 per cent during the past two decades. Underscoring the perils facing monarchs, a single snowstorm in early March killed up to 11 million monarchs before they left for their multi-generational journey back to Canada. A new study estimates the population has up to a 57 per cent chance of falling to quasi-extinction levels over the next 20 years.

“Milkweed is the only plant that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on and is the primary source of food for monarch caterpillars,” said Roberts. “Scientists have identified milkweed planting as the most important action people can take to help support threatened monarch populations.”

Jarvis said the 4-H clubs could plant the flower seeds in community gardens, give them away or sell them for fundraisers. This year, participating 4-H’ers will also have the chance to submit a short video describing why they are #ProudtoBeea4Her. The winners will be chosen through public voting in late-summer 2016.

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