John Torgrimson: For Earth Day, protect native species

April 22, 2019 GMT

I am old enough to remember the first Earth Day in 1970, when 20 million people from communities throughout the United States came out to peacefully celebrate the environment and our precious earth. Some cleaned up litter, others planted trees, and, yet others called for policy changes that would have lasting positive effects on our planet.

Earth Day is now celebrated worldwide in 193 countries and coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network. The theme for Earth Day 2019 today is Protect Our Species.

The rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations are directly linked to human activity: climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides. Species in danger include coral reefs, whales, elephants, and insects to name a few.

The most threatened species in southeast Minnesota are bees. Native bees are one of the key pollinators of flowers, fruits and vegetables. During the past 15 years, colonies of bees have been disappearing, and the reasons remain unknown. Referred to as colony collapse disorder, billions of bees across the world are leaving their hives.

A case in point is the rusty patched bumble bee, whose population has declined 87% in the last 20 years. Previously widespread in northeast United States, its remaining home remains in the Midwest, including parts of southeast Minnesota.

How can we help protect bees? City folks can stop using pesticides and herbicides on their lawns and provide flowering plants from April through October. Where possible, avoid mowing in April and May, or set the blades of the mower at the highest level.

Farmers who grow alfalfa are benefiting pollinators by providing blooming clover beneficial to bees. Where possible, farmers should limit pesticide use and leave mow strips for bee habitat.

Remember that the vast majority of edible plants, which are necessary for human life, are pollinated by insects, especially bees.

Let’s all do what we can to provide a place where native bees can flourish and do their important work for our benefit.

For more information on how you can help, go to the US Fish & Wildlife Service website at ( https://www.fws.gov/southeast/wildlife-and-you/bees ) or the Bee Lab at the University of Minnesota’s website ( https://www.beelab.umn.edu ).