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Editorial: How to save the world in your own yard

Bees and other pollinators are in trouble.

And because they’re in trouble, we’re in trouble.

Over the past few decades, there has been a significant loss of pollinators from the environment. Carmelita Nelson, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Roadsides for Wildlife coordinator, said that the number of migrating Monarch butterflies sank to the lowest number ever last year. There’s also been a sharp decline in the number of other butterflies, honey bees, native bees, birds and bats. A variety of causes are linked to the problem: Habitat loss, pesticide use, diseases, parasites and the spread of invasive species are the major causes of pollinator decline, according to the DNR.

Why should you care about bees and butterflies? Because many of the foods we enjoy depend on pollinator insects. In fact, more than one-third of all human food comes from plants pollinated primarily by bees. Foods like tomatoes, peppers, blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, apples, melons, sunflowers, pumpkins, plums, squash and canola all depend on pollinating insects to produce.

The extent of our food system’s dependence on pollinators makes this an alarming problem. Eighty-seven of the world’s 124 most commonly cultivated crops are pollinated by insects and other animals. More than 80 percent of the world’s 250,000 flowering plants depend on animals for pollination.

But there’s a way you can help address this global problem right in your own backyard. The DNR offers these practices to enhance bee habitat around farms, gardens and roadsides:

n Increasing flower diversity.

n Using native wildflowers and grasses, with high densities of flowers.

n Planting a minimum of three plant species that bloom during spring, summer and fall.

n Aiming for season-long blooming plants, with early-and late-season blooming plants being especially important.

n Planting a range of wildflowers of varying colors and shapes.

n Providing warm season, clump-forming grasses for bumblebee nest sites.

n Delaying mowing or haying entire grassy meadows or roadsides, leaving some habitat for pollinators.

n Reducing tillage and avoiding plastic ground cover sheeting for ground nesting bees.

n Avoiding or minimizing the use of insecticides.

The DNR is distributing a new poster that highlights the importance of bees and butterflies and points out ways for people to enhance pollinator habitat. It’s available at no charge by contacting the DNR Information Center at 1-888-646-6367 or by visiting and clicking on “Pollinators and Roadsides.”


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