Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Year with Pollinators

This week, we’ve been celebrating National Pollinator Week at U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS). If you’re unfamiliar with pollinators, this week might not mean very much to you. Coincidentally, before beginning my internship with the Connecting People with Nature Team a year ago, I myself knew nothing about the word “pollinator.” In fact, I didn’t even know that the term referred to a special set of species. I remember thinking “What is that, like a spray you put on plants or something?” Throughout the past year, I went from neither knowing, nor caring about the significance and importance of pollinators to having a great understanding and appreciation for all they do. This week, in celebration of National Pollinator Week, I wanted to take you all through my year of learning to care about this wonderful set of critters and try to pass on the connection!

Me at the Wallowa County
Watershed Festival

Photo Credit: Gretchen Sausen

Crash course on Pollinators
My story begins a year ago during the first week of working with the Connecting People with Nature Team. I was about to head off to the Wallowa County Watershed Festival in Enterprise, Oregon as my first event with my team. My task was manning a booth to show visitors the anatomy of a flower and how it is pollinated. Not having thought about flower anatomy since high school, I requested a crash course on the topic and was graciously sent a set of fact sheets all about pollinators, flowers, and foods. This is where I learned exactly what pollinators were, and the abundant numbers of plants and foods we eat that depend on them.

The beautiful backyard garden where the friend I mentioned pollinated
a tree by hand.

Photo Credit: Skip Flinn
No Bees in the Backyard
When I returned from Wallowa County, I found myself more interested in pollinators and more aware of their presence. I even found that my fear of being stung by a bee was replaced with the thought “oh, that little bee is just busy working” (A good sell I must say for teaching those with a fear of bees). Now that I was more aware, I saw the problem come to life first-hand one summer day when visiting a friend. For the past few years he had been growing an expansive garden in his back yard. While explaining to me the different plants throughout the yard I excitedly asked him “Do you see a lot of pollinators back here?” I was surprised when he responded “Actually, this year there weren’t many so I had to pollinate these flowers myself by hand.” Here was the decline in pollinators, right in our own backyards!

A group of students work in their pollinator garden
as part of the Schoolyard Habitat program

Photo Credit: Joseph Charter School
Schoolyard Habitat
Shortly down the road, I learned about the focus that USFWS places on schoolyard habitats. Schoolyard habitats are common projects that the Connecting People with Nature Team helps fund annually to help students, teachers and families develop gardens at their schools. Come to find out, the majority of these gardens specifically work towards growing pollinator habitat. As threats to pollinators, such as loss of habitat, force a decline in their numbers, it’s more important than ever to not only educate younger generations on the issue, but allow them to play a role in the conservation of pollinators via school and home gardens. It doesn’t stop there, USFWS has been diligently working to protect pollinators across the nation, and this week offers us all a week to celebrate in their conservation.

Spread the word!
Photo Credit: Andrew McLachlan/USFWS
Get Out and Help the Pollinators!
Now, here I am, a year later with a calendar full of National Pollinator Week events and passing on the spirit to care about pollinators like I have learned to. So my prescription for this week is that as the week winds down, and the weekend rolls in, make a plan to do something for the bees, birds, butterflies and bats that quietly watch over the beautiful gardens all around you. And once you make your connection – pass it on!

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