Local and state pollinator conservation efforts have been hampered by the pandemic. Some organizations have had to cancel their events outright, while others have transitioned to virtual settings.
The Orange County Beekeepers Association educates beekeepers and the public about the importance of bees and other pollinators. In a typical year, Carrie Donley, vice president of the association, said outreach events include in-person presentations at schools and booths at fair, festivals and farmer’s markets.
“While we usually do about 50 outreach events a year, we haven't been able to do any of those,” Donley said.
The organization also offers a 10-week beekeeping course in January to teach people how to be beekeepers, including the biology of beekeeping, the monitoring and treatment of pests and diseases as well as seasonal hive management.
This year, Donley said the course will be held over Zoom at a reduced price.
One statewide conservation effort is the North Carolina Pollinator Conservation Alliance which represents over 20 conservation organizations. The group works on conservation projects, like adding pollinator habitats to solar farms across the state, and raises awareness through outreach events. These events include Pollinator Field Day, where those interested can learn about pollinators and interact with them in their habitats.
This year, the event was still held virtually, but according to Gabriela Garrison, chairperson of the alliance, it wasn’t the same.
“Nothing replaces being able to go out and catch bees with the net or get into the dirt and figure out how to plant some plants,” Garrison said.
For those interested in learning how to plant pollinator gardens, the NCPCA worked with the North Carolina Botanical Garden to produce the North Carolina Pollinator's Toolkit in 2019. It includes education on site preparation, maintenance, planting instructions and native species lists, said Heather Summer, program coordinator at the North Carolina Botanical Garden.
Additionally, the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Wildflower Program plants native wildflowers in beds along highways to provide pollinator habitat. Derek Smith, a roadside environmental engineer at the NCDOT, said this program is the largest wildflower program in the nation and has been beneficial for promoting pollination.
Pollinators are essential to plant life, with over 75 percent of the world’s flowering plants and 35 percent of the world’s crops relying on them, according to data from the National Recreation and Park Association.
“Bees are the most efficient pollinators of agricultural crops,” Summer said. “If bees disappeared then all of that food would be in danger, essentially.”
Hannah Levenson, a doctoral candidate at North Carolina State University, said without bees, crops which provide humans with essential vitamins and nutrients would be gone.
Levenson’s research lab focuses on honey bee health. Through a years-long study sampling native bees across the state, Levenson said she has found that adding habitat in agricultural lands supports bees and their health and increases crop yield.
Pollinators are also responsible for pollinating a majority of the world’s flowering plants, Summer said. The extinction of even one native plant or bee can have ecological consequences that make ecosystems more fragile. She said to promote pollinator health individually, North Carolinians can plant native plants in their yards, let weeds grow, use fewer pesticides and mow their lawns less frequently.
Pollinator species are threatened by habitat loss due to infrastructure and agriculture development, pesticide use, diseases and parasites, and climate change. Levenson said many pollinator species are facing population decline and endangerment.
“Pollinators are extremely important,” said Levenson. “Every landscape we know would look completely different without them.”
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