A ruby throated hummingbird, native to New York State. Photo credit: lowcountryhummingbirds.wordpress.com

Whether you buy produce from New York State farmers, or you treasure the plant life in our local parks, pollinators are critical to their success. New York is celebrating Pollinator Awareness Week from June 15th to 21st, highlighting species such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds- an essential aspect of our state’s biodiversity and agricultural economy.

In late August, masses of monarch butterflies begin an epic migration stretching thousands of miles from areas across the United States and as far north as Canada to overwinter in mountaintops of Central Mexico. Photo credit: NYS DEC

To that end, Governor Cuomo has issued a proclamation affirming that New York is committed to the promotion of the health and recovery of the pollinator population, which will be the focus of a new state agency task force.

The number of pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, bats, hummingbirds and butterflies, has dropped significantly over the past 50 years, say state regulators. They report 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.

The decline of pollinators has become a focus across the U.S. because it threatens food production, and New York State is no exception. “Bees pollinate a wide variety and some of the most profitable crops grown in the state,” observed state Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball.

nys apple trees
There are over 450 species of wild bees in New York State alone. Over 100 of these contribute to apple pollination in the Northeast. Photo credit: Northeast Pollinator Partnership

Pollinators contribute substantially to the state’s economy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pollinators provide $500 million worth of pollination services to New York and add $15 billion in value to crop production nationally each year. New York’s ability to produce crops such as apples, grapes, cherries, onions, pumpkins and cauliflower relies heavily on the presence of pollinators.

A Plan for Pollinators

Karner blue caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of the wild blue lupine, a perennial wildflower. Photo credit: NYS DEC

As announced by Governor Cuomo in April, the departments of Environmental Conservation and Agriculture and Markets, along with State Parks and other stakeholders, have come together to develop a statewide Pollinator Action Plan.

“Pollinators are vital to…the maintenance of healthy and diverse ecosystems across New York,” said state DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. “A main focus of the task force will be to protect the remaining pollinators and to find solutions to bring their numbers back up.”

One question that the State’s task force will need to address is how to approach neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides that has been linked to bee decline across the country. A statewide ban on the pesticides was considered by the state assembly in 2013, but it appears no action has been taken since early 2014.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently conducting a review of neonicotinoids, but results are not expected until 2018. In the meantime, the EPA has required neonicotinoid products to include warning labels.

Space for Pollinators

The Honey Bee Conservancy is urging home and building owners to replace grass with clover or another flowering ground cover, or a mixed selection of native plants. Photo credit: thehoneybeeconservancy.org

Maintaining pollinators’ natural habitats is another critical part of the effort to protect them, says the State.

New Yorkers can help. “There are some simple things you can do at home to encourage pollinator diversity and abundance,” says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Residents can take steps like: 1.) Planting a Pollinator Garden; 2) Providing Nesting Habitat; and 3) Avoiding or Limiting Pesticide Use. More information about all three can be found on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website.

You can even grow a butterfly garden! Here’s a great primer on how to make your backyard more attractive to pollinators.

Do you live in an apartment in New York City and want to help? You can! Get involved with your local community garden– there are more than 600 gardens across the five boroughs.

Residents of the NYC metro-area can also visit the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, or the Brooklyn Botanical Garden for more ideas and information.

Some of the Pollinator Awareness Events in NYS this week

Wednesday, June 17, 2015, 3 pm

Wildlife Wednesday- Join us on a pollinator scavenger hunt during New York State Pollinator Week.

Location: Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, Staten Island, (718) 967-1976

Thursday, June 18, 4:30-5:30 pm

Family Fun After School: Get the Buzz on Bees, Bats and Beetles.

Children in grades K through 5 explore why pollinators such as bees, butterflies, bats and beetles are important to the environment and we will look for them as we travel along the trail.

Location: Five Rivers Environmental Education Center in Delmar (Albany County) & Reinstein Woods Environmental Education Center in Depew (Erie County).

Friday, June 19, 2015, 3 pm

Friday Hikes- It’s New York State Pollinator Week! We’ll be looking for pollinators and playing a pollinator scavenger hunt during our weekly hike through the Preserve.

Location: Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, Staten Island, (718) 967-1976

Saturday, June 20, 2015, 12 – 1:30 pm

Pollination Celebration- Celebrate pollinator week with us by playing games, learning about native pollinators, and on a pollinator scavenger hunt hike.

Location: Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, Staten Island, (718) 967-1976

Sunday, June 21, 2015, 2:00 pm

Indoor Ed-Ventures-Butterfly Beauties. Study the beauty and composition of hundreds of dried butterfly specimens representing most of the world’s butterfly families. Dozens of local and New York species as well as those found in the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory are specially noted. Butterfly structure and local natural history will be featured in two new butterfly videos.

This is an excellent primer for the Butterfly Walk on July 5th.

Location: Letchworth State Park, “The Grand Canyon of the Northeast,” 35 miles southwest of Rochester, (585) 493-3600