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Natalie Shimo

Pennsylvania's Pollinator Programs

by Natalie Shimo

It’s mid-summer. The bees are buzzing and the butterflies are flying. Pollinators are critical to the production of the fruits, vegetables and flowers we love so much. However, the pollinator population is in decline. As people are becoming concerned, the popularity of pollinator programs is growing. Gardeners and farmers are rethinking traditional growing methods and pollinator information is becoming more available.

There are many pollinator programs available in the state of Pennsylvania. Penn State

Extension offers a variety of educational opportunities for people in the community. The Master Gardener Program trains volunteers to educate others on a variety of gardening topics.Ginger Pryor, State Master Gardener Coordinator, said in a Penn State News interview, “The program focuses on creating landscapes that can strengthen and increase native pollinator populations. Because landscapes have been extremely fragmented due to urbanization, suburbanization and development, we would like to have homeowners and gardeners rethinking their space.” Master Gardeners also certify gardens as pollinator-friendly. Currently, there are 442 certified gardens in Pennsylvania.3 Karen Roccasecca, Pennsylvania’s State Apiarist, wrote in response to my query: “Not everyone wants to be a beekeeper, but this [pollinator gardening] is an interesting and fairly easy way to help pollinators.”4 Penn State Extension also offers a Pesticide Education Program which educates participants in the safe application of pesticides.5

Monarch Watch is an organization that educates people about the importance of protecting Monarch butterflies. Participants are encouraged to plant Monarch waystations or rest and reproduction areas for the Monarch butterfly.6 As a participant, I planted milkweed in our flower gardens and also encouraged my grandparents to plant milkweed in their garden as well.

The Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State University is an independent, faculty lead research program that works to develop a deeper understanding of pollinator health.7 They study the response of honey bees and other pollinators to pesticides, diseases and other stresses.8 Results are shared nationally and internationally.9
Charlie Vorisek, President of the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association (PSBA), wrote that PSBA is currently working with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Transportation to allow the planting of pollinator-friendly plants along highways and utility right-of-ways.10

Representatives from PSBA, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Agriculture will be meeting in March 2015 to continue discussions.11 The Ernst Seed Company in Meadville, Pennsylvania, also supports pollinator-friendly gardening. In February 2015, the company will participate in the Clarion Forest Landowner Conference by promoting pollinator-friendly seeding practices.12They also sell pollinator seed mixes. Randy Ferguson, Director of Marketing and Communications, reported to me that sales are increasing as people recognize the value of using pollinator mixes for the pollinators.13

State Senator Michele Brooks said in response to my letter: “When I was a member of the

House of Representatives last year, the House adopted House Resolution 904 designating the week of June 16-23, 2014, as ‘Pollinator Week’ in Pennsylvania.”14 The resolution was adopted in an effort to promote beekeeping.15 Pollinator gardening programs are abundant in the state of Pennsylvania and gardening is ranked as the seventh most popular hobby in America.16 The question then is how can we increase participation in pollinator programs? I believe there are four things we can do better.

Although pollinator programs are abundant, very few people know about them. When asked if he was aware of Penn State Extension’s Pollinator Garden Certification Program, John Lechner, Mercer County Commissioner and avid gardener, replied that he was unaware that the program existed.17 Dave Stearns, a hobby beekeeper and a member of the Northwest Beekeepers Association, wrote that he was unsure whether his club promotes pollinator gardening.18 Promoting current pollinator programs more effectively would provide more people with access and information and increase participation.

When most people encounter a stinging insect they usually try to kill it. Educating people about the intelligence, beauty and importance of the honey bee is essential. Beehives could be placed in public parks and at 4-H fairgrounds with demonstrations and honey tasting offered to the public. If people could see how docile honey bees can be, I believe they would develop a new appreciation for them.

Many people are unaware that there is even a pollinator crisis. How can the word be spread? Those who know need to make an effort to inform those who do not know. There are approximately 30 beekeeping clubs in Pennsylvania.19 If every club offered classes or meetings on the pollinator crisis and encouraged non-beekeepers to attend, I believe it would greatly increase people’s knowledge of the pollinator problem.

Finally, I believe people may be intimidated by the work and expense required to maintain a certified pollinator garden. It’s true, gardens take time to maintain. However, there are many little things homeowners can do that don’t require much time at all. For example, leaving dandelions and clover growing in yards would benefit the pollinators and actually save homeowners time and money.

Planting milkweed along a property line or in a flower bed also requires little time or expense. There are many people in the state of Pennsylvania who know the importance of planting pollinator-friendly gardens. There are many more people who would enthusiastically embrace the idea of helping the honey bee if only they knew about the problem.

What better way to spread to the word to Pennsylvanians about the need to support pollinators than by changing our state nickname to the “Bee-Friendly State”. The new nickname could then be added to the state license plate along with a website address. Not only would the website provide pollinator information to Pennsylvanians but would also spread the news across the nation.

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