"Pollinators are responsible for an estimated one out of three bites of food that people eat, which is worth billions of dollars to the North American economy."
The decline of the monarch butterfly and bee population has been a focal point of many conservationists and environmental groups over the past two decades. EcoWatch writes that the monarch’s population has, “plummeted by approximately 90% in just the last two decades,” while a 2015 United Nations report found that “populations are declining for 37% of bee species, with 9% of butterfly and bee populations facing extinction.” The decline in pollinators is a cause that both federal and provincial governments have also supported, with Health Canada stating that, “the declining health and population of bees and wild pollinators is a cause for global concern. ”
Figure 1. Data provided by the Monarch Watch
Federal and Provincial Government Action
Governing bodies agree that protecting and restoring the population of pollinators is important for many reasons, including the health of the environment, the health of Canadians, and the local and national economy. Health Canada “is actively working with key stakeholders as well as provincial agriculture and environment ministries to ensure agricultural practices across the country protect pollinators,” and is “also collaborating with other pesticide regulators internationally to refine pesticide risk assessment methods and data requirements” so that the potential effects on bees are better understood and risks can be mitigated.
Meanwhile, the provincial government of Ontario is currently working to strengthen pollinator health using a threefold strategy which includes a Pollinator Health Action Plan, and the federal government of Canada actions taken to “ban harmful imidacloprids- one of the most commonly used neonic pesticide.” Neonicotinoid pesticide is used as an insecticide in the agricultural sector, and recent studies have proven their deadly impact on pollinators such as bees. One study led by York University and the another study led by a UK university were referred to by the Guardian as the “most important evidence yet for regulators around the world considering action against neonicotinoids, including in the EU where a total ban is poised to be implemented this autumn.”
Threats to Pollinators
The decline in pollinator numbers can be linked to four main threats: pesticides, habitat loss, disease, and climate change. It is important that we continue to work to limit each one of them, because as Ontario Nature explains, “pollinators are responsible for an estimated one out of three bites of food that people eat, which is worth billions of dollars to the North American economy,” and they “ensure the reproductive success of plants and the survival of the wildlife that depend on those plants for food and shelter”.
Celebrate and Carry On
On July 25th, Toronto’s Globe and Mail published an opinion piece titled, The monarch butterflies are back (and so are the bees), which states that both monarch butterfly and bee populations have risen, despite the rise in pesticide use, and demeans the work of people working to restore the pollinator population. There are efforts in both Ontario (Got Milkweed Campaign, WWF, St. William’s Monarch Conservation) and Mexico (Monarch Butterfly Fund, Forests for Monarchs) to restore the monarch butterflies’ habitat, and efforts around the world to save the bees (#Savethebees, Bees Matter, The Bee Cause, Help Save The Honeybee, SOS-Bees, Bring Back The Bees, Bee Saver Kit ). However, the numbers are still lower than they should be and there is no evidence that the bee population has reached a stable level as of yet.
Figure 2. Agrawal Lab - Cornell University 2017
Some researchers have noticed an increase in the monarch population. Researchers at Cornell University have been keeping an eye on the monarchs over the winter and recently published a study indicating their population over the winter of 2016-2017. According to the study, the population “estimate is down some 27% compared to last year. Nonetheless, the previous two years were a 600% increase over the all-time low populations (from 2012 to 2014).” We need to celebrate this data, but it is important to recognize that the pollinator population still has a long way to go!
What can you do?
It is important that we keep up the momentum to protect the pollinators, and there are lots of ways you can help!
- Plant native species like milkweed, to support all pollinators including butterflies, bees, moths, hummingbirds and more.
- Give up the use of pesticides and embrace the beauty of nature. Refrain from using chemical pesticides, as they infiltrate the water systems and destroy important resources for the local ecosystem.
- Cut down your Ecological Footprint by walking, cycling, or talking public transportation to work and to fulfill your errands. You will cut down on carbon emissions, save money, and feel healthier.
- Watch out for waste! Keeping greenspaces and waterways free of garbage prevents wildlife from eating garbage, and allows species to thrive in non-polluted environments.
- Watch our “Biodiversity in Ontario” video to learn more about the importance of supporting biodiversity in Ontario, and how biodiversity benefits local tourism and the economy.
- Support organizations working for pollinators:
Support Sierra Club Canada Foundation’s Save the Bees campaign by donating to us or by attending one of our upcoming pollinator workshops. Sign up for our Ozone newsletter to receive notifications about when and where these workshops are taking place!
This article was written by Stephanie Hulse, Environmental Outreach Coordinator at Sierra Club Ontario. It is Part III of a 5-part blog series for our Biodiversity Video Campaign.
Image of Monarch and Bee obtained from One Green Plane website