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Why focus on pollinator recovery for farm, ranch & wildlands health in Southern Arizona?

Gary Paul Nabhan

The pollination services provided to food crops and rangeland forages by bees and other animals is valued at no less than $15-20 billion a year in the United States, but was at one time provided to us “for free.” Recent events suggest that if we want to keep these valuable services available to us, our society needs to make an investment in providing pollinators with food, sheltered nesting areas and pesticide-free habitat.

The value of commercial beekeeping in Arizona once topped $12 million a year, but its future status is no longer certain. Since 2007, there have been reports of honeybee colony collapse in Arizona and 22 other states, with one Arizona beekeeper losing over 95% of his 1000 hives. Overall, there has been a 33% drop in managed honeybee colony populations in the U.S. since 2007, with neo-nicotinoid pesticides and the Israeli acute paralysis virus being among the most probable culprits. The managed honeybees still remaining appear to have too narrow genetic base and compromised immune defenses to fend off such results. Feral or wild bees have also declined dramatically in Arizona, with only 5% to 48% of their previous numbers surviving in southern Arizona’s wild-lands.

In short, there are fewer honeybees in the West— Arizona and California in particular— than at any point during our lifetimes. And so, over the last five years, the cost for Western orchardists renting honeybee colonies has tripled, so that the price of renting and managing honeybees to pollinate a crop like almond trees is now 15% of the entire annual cost of producing nuts. This has forced farmers, orchard-keepers and ranchers to look for other pollinators to do the “work” on their lands. Fortunately, there are at least 600 native bee species which live in the wilds of southern Arizona, as well as 300 pollinating butterflies and moth, 15 hummingbirds, bats and doves. However, over the last half century, their favorite “nectar” plants have slowly declined in the wild, as a result of drought, global warming and other factors. If these wild pollinators are to effectively “take up the slack” left by the loss of honeybees in our region, we need to restore the habitat of what ecologists call “nectar corridors” and “pollen paths.”

The Borderlands Habitat Restoration Initiative based in Patagonia, is now out to restore the habitat that these imperiled pollinators need to the point that we can celebrate our place as the Pollinator Capitol of the U.S. Already, annual wildflowers as well as perennial milkweeds and shrubs are being planted to reconstruct our historic nectar corridors and to make them more diverse and resilient in the face of on-going climate change. You can help us by joining us for  a Pollinator Garden Planting in memory of the Pattons at their Hummingbird Paradise on Sonoita Creek on the afternoon of Saturday June 25th. For further information, Contact us though email.

Gary Nabhan is the Patagonia-based co-author of the award-winning book The Forgotten Pollinators, a contributor to Sierra Club/Xerces Society anthology on Butterfly Gardening, and founder of the Migratory Pollinators Project and Forgotten Pollinators Campaign.

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