According to USDA, an estimated $15 billion worth of crops – including more than 90 fruits and vegetables – are pollinated by honey bees alone. Countless other native bees, birds, bats, butterflies and other animals perform vital but often unnoticed pollinator services every day.
While pollinators typically "fly under the radar," their role will be on display this week as the USDA joins with a host of other federal agencies and organizations to celebrate National Pollinator Week, which kicked off Monday and runs through June 21.
The week is intended as a period of reflection on pollinators' role in crop production, providing healthy watersheds, supporting terrestrial wildlife and contributing to the ecosystem.
The National Wildlife Federation and the Pollinator Partnership are just two of the groups behind the weeklong celebration effort, pushing Americans to get involved in pollinator conservation and health issues.
In the last several years, research has shown that populations of some pollinators have dwindled due to a variety of stressors. In a 2013 joint report from the USDA and U.S. EPA, declines of honeybees in particular were traced back to poor diets, poor habitat, limited genetics and parasites. The report also cited the potential for pesticide exposure to be a factor, but recommended more study on the issue.
Last month, the White House unveiled a "National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators" to address the populations and stressors. Multiple approaches are listed in the plan, including increasing populations of monarch butterflies and increasing habitat for them, and a call for federal agencies to work with university and public partners to restore or enhance 7 million acres of pollinator habitat within the next five years.
Part of the USDA and Interior's efforts will be focused on the Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices for Federal Lands outline. Through the Department of the Interior, up to 400 parks will hold citizen-engagement activities and dispatch youth ambassadors to schools.
The Interior's U.S. Geological Survey also has a new pollinator research website to help Americans understand the role of pollinators and pollinator health.
Part of the public-private partnership initiative is underway in the USDA's joint effort with the seed company Burpee, which has donated a million pollinator-friendly Bee and Butterfly Garden packets to community and youth programs for planting in home and school gardens.
The packets contain 21 flower varieties that bloom early and late in the season to extend available nectar for bees, butterflies, moths and birds.
To help consumers understand pollinator concerns related to pesticide exposure, EPA is holding a webinar June 23 to explain the basics of a proposal that would protect bees from "acutely toxic pesticides."
Another event open to the public is the Pollinator Week Festival, scheduled for June 19 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the USDA headquarters in Washington D.C.
Festival highlights include viewing live honey bees in a glass enclosed observation hive with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service Bee Research Lab; sampling honey from the People’s Garden Apiary; learning how to install a bat house with the Forest Service; seeing live bats with Organization for Bat Conservation; and getting tips for creating a pollinator friendly backyard with Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Following the festival, USDA is hosting a Pollinator Week Night Bat Walk from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., starting at the People's Garden on the corner of 12th street and Jefferson Drive in Washington, D.C.
USDA also is pressing those who can't attend the festival and bat walk to share pollinator health tips and support the Pollinator Week effort using social media hashtags #PW2015 and #PollinatorWeek.