ALBANY —Last month, the New York state Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Agriculture and Markets commemorated National Pollinator Week and Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a proclamation in which he iterated the reasons New York is working to promote the well-being and resurgence of the state’s pollinator population.
The number of pollinators in New York, including honey bees, native bees, bats, hummingbirds and butterflies, has dropped significantly over the past 50 years. While information on wild pollinators in New York state is limited, researchers believe that losses are likely caused by a combination of factors such as poor nutrition, loss of foraging habitat, parasites, pesticides, pathogens, lack of genetic diversity and poor land management practices. According to DEC, there is also “a strong body of evidence” pointing to climate change as a leading cause.
“These species provide significant contributions to our agricultural industry,” said State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball. “And as we better understand the factors that can harm pollinator populations, we will continue to implement new strategies to safeguard their health and habitats.”
The Governor’s proclamation highlighted the importance of pollinators to the state’s economy as well as its biodiversity, noting that natural pollinator populations provide “more than $340 million to the value of the State’s food crops through pollination on an annual basis.”
In 2016, a state agency task force released a comprehensive Pollinator Protection Plan to guide actions by state agencies and the public to protect New York’s pollinator populations.
DEC and the state agriculture department led the Pollinator Protection Task Force, which examined and developed solutions to address pollinator losses in the state and develop a statewide plan to reverse the trend. Co-chaired by Seggos and Ball, the taskforce consists of agency officials from the Department of Agriculture and Markets, DEC, Department of Transportation, Thruway Authority, Office of General Services, State Parks and other key stakeholders.
The Task Force focused on four priority areas: development of best management practices; habitat enhancement efforts; research and monitoring; and outreach and education.
In its report, the Task Force emphasized the need for comprehensive, state-focused research to better understand the status of native pollinators in New York and the factors that impact both managed and wild pollinator health and performance.
The 2016-17 New York State Budget included $500,000 from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) for pollinator protection initiatives. Per Task Force recommendations, that funding is being used to survey the status of New York’s wild bees, create and expand pollinator-friendly habitat, and conduct additional research on the impacts of potential pollinator stressors as well as the effects of bee-husbandry practices on the performance of managed hives. It also supported the ¬–establishment of the New York’s Tech Team for Beekeepers, which is led by Cornell University.
The 2017-18 New York State Budget includes another $500,000 to further the research efforts, which are being applied to the state’s beekeeping industry to develop best management practices aimed at reducing honey bee colony losses and improving the profitability and viability of beekeeping businesses. The survey of native pollinators will continue as well.
Following recommendations from the Pollinator Protection Plan, state agencies are working to implement new and enhance existing actions to promote the health and recovery of pollinators in New York state. They’re reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides that could be harmful to pollinators, planting and restoring pollinator habitats in key area, increasing pest management efforts and invasive species removal projects, and developing educational materials to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators and how they can be protected.
State Parks has launched more than a dozen projects to promote the health and recovery of pollinators. The Thruway Authority will reduce mowing on 225 additional acres of land, has planted 16 acres of wildflowers, and added more than 2,000 feet of living snow fences to help restore wild pollinator habitats along the NYS Thruway. The Department of Transportation has also delayed mowing along the State’s highways until after the seasonal migration of monarch butterflies and prioritized planting of flowers, shrubs and trees to maintain pollinator food sources. It is also developing and testing soil and nutrient combinations that encourage root growth in nectar-producing plants and working with its partners to share research, including development of seed mixes that can withstand roadside stressors.
“The bees fly out three to four miles,” said local beekeeper and honey-maker Ronald Tweedie. “So, they’re pollinating flowers all over Delmar.” He explained that the flavor of the honey he has been making for 40 years is a direct result of the flowers his bees have been pollinating.
It’s only been during the last 10 to 15 years that colony loss has become a real issue, said Tweedie. “There have been a lot more pesticides and fungicides and things that hurt honey bees.”
Tweedie has had meetings with representatives from the Cornell Tech Team and said, “They’re doing a lot of good work on what we should be doing to provide better food for the bees. People don’t think about it. The bees are trying to live and, instead of collecting pollen and nectar — it’s pollen, particularly, that collects the pesticides — they’re collecting toxins.”
Tweedie specifically mentioned a class of pesticide the Cornell team has specifically warned against, called neonicotinoids, which have been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder. While neonicotinoids have been banned in Europe and restricted elsewhere, the state Task Force neglected to recommend any action be taken to mitigate its effects in New York state.
“There’s a lot of things that could be done differently to protect the bees,” said Tweedie, good-naturedly extending an invitation to come try his honey.