Save the Pollinators by Kayla Marr

The earth and its residents need pollinators to survive! Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, bats, birds, and small mammals, play an important role in food production and sustaining the natural world. However, many pollinator populations are declining because of multiple factors, including habitat degradation and pesticide exposure.[1] Therefore, in order to protect the future of food systems and populations living on earth, agricultural producers and policymakers must take action to protect pollinators and their habitats.

Pollinators play an essential role in maintaining life on earth because they enable the production of food and maintenance of healthy ecosystems. Pollinator populations are responsible for helping pollinate more than three-quarters of the planet’s flowering plants, and approximately three-quarters of all crops.[2] Apples, almonds, avocados, squash, tomatoes, and cotton are just a few of the many crops that need the help of pollinators.[3] As valuable assets to food supply, pollinators are responsible for directly contributing to between $235 billion and $577 billion USD of yearly global food production.[4] According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, about one in every three bites of food in American diets directly or indirectly benefited from honey bee pollination alone![5] Furthermore, pollinators are responsible for crops that create other necessary materials such as medicines, fibers, construction materials, feed for livestock, and biofuels.[6] Thus, pollinators are vital actors in maintaining the health of ecosystems and the livelihoods of the populations living within them.

Habitat protection and maintenance for pollinators is key for protecting pollinator populations, as the current decline in pollinator populations is most associated with a loss in feeding and nesting habitats.[7] In order to conserve and restore pollinator habitats, policy mechanisms such as creating financial incentives for habitat enhancement and designating mandatory conservation sites in areas of known pollinator population decreases should be implemented.[8] For example, agricultural producers should be informed and encouraged to work with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to develop programs for conservation work that benefit both the agricultural producers and pollinator populations. The EQIP Pollinator Initiative provides both financial and technical assistance to producers to help offset costs of implementation of conservation practices approved by the NRCS, such as planting year-round food sources for pollinators on pasture edges, planting cover crops for pollinator populations, and using forms of pest management that are less hazardous to pollinators.[9] Thus, federal government incentive programs, such as the EQIP, are important conservation tools that should continue to be improved and funded, as they provide vital resources and aid for both pollinators and agricultural producers. Furthermore, policymakers should invoke endangered species laws, such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, to enact pollinator habitat conservation. With over 40% of insect species, many of them vital pollinators, threatened with extinction, increased federal action must be taken to protect these species.[10] The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should list pollinator species that are at risk of endangerment so that the Endangered Species Act may be used to protect and recover pollinator populations and their natural habitats. Specifically, Fish and Wildlife should declare the Bethany Beach firefly, Franklin’s bumblebee, Gulf Coast solitary bee, and Mojave poppy bee as endangered species, as recommended by the Center for Biological Diversity.[11] Usage of the above precedents and laws will enable creation of more diverse and resilient pollinator habitats in both agricultural and urban landscapes.

Additionally, the dangerous pesticides responsible for the decline of pollinator populations must be banned in order to promote the health of pollinator populations. Neonicotinoid pesticides are a class of insecticides that are being increasingly used in agriculture, since neonicotinoids have high acute toxicity to insects and the chemicals can persist in plant tissues and soil for long periods of time.[12] Neonicotinoids have led to the decline in many pollinator populations as the chemical has become embedded in the seed coatings, pollen, and nectar that pollinators are exposed to regularly.[13] In the interest of public health and pollinator populations, the U.S. federal government should ban the usage of neonicotinoids, which have neurotoxic risks to both people and wildlife.[14] Specifically, the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (S.4406), introduced to the Senate by Senator Tom Udall, should be brought to the Senate and House floors for a vote. If passed, S.4406 would ban many harmful groups of pesticides including neonicotinoids, organophosphates, and paraquat.[15] This expansion of current banned pesticides is necessary to protect the safety of the environment and the American people. The U.S. should follow in the footsteps of other governing bodies, such as that of France and the European Commission, by banning the most widely used neonicotinoids including acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam. Along with protecting pollinator populations, this ban on neonicotinoids will protect human health from the potential nervous system and developmental damage associated with the pesticide.[16]

Given the life-sustaining services that pollinators provide, action must be taken to protect pollinators and their habitats. Conservation programs and incentives that protect pollinator habitats coupled with the banning of neonicotinoids and other dangerous pesticides are the best next steps for agricultural producers and policymakers alike. Save the pollinators!


What can you personally do to help pollinators?



[1] Spivak, M, Browning Z, Goblirsch M, Lee K, Otto C, Smart M, Wu-Smart J. 2017. Why Does Bee Health Matter? The Science Surrounding Honey Bee Health Concerns and What We Can Do About It. Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) Commentary, QTA2017. CAST, Ames, Iowa. Pp 1-16.

[2] US Fish and Wildlife Service, Pollinators home page. (2020).

[3] Klein Alexandra-Maria, Vaissière Bernard E, Cane James H, Steffan-Dewenter Ingolf, Cunningham Saul A, Kremen Claire and Tscharntke Teja 2007Importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world cropsProc. R. Soc. B.274303–313

[4] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2016, February 26). Pollinators vital to our food supply under threat.,instruments%2C%20and%20arts%20and%20crafts

[5] DuBois, G., & Oren, S. (2020, September 23). Pollinator health.,in%20the%20country%20in%202012

[6]Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2016, February 26). Pollinators vital to our food supply under threat.,instruments%2C%20and%20arts%20and%20crafts.

[7] National Research Council of the National Academies (2006) Status of Pollinators in North America. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

[8] Rose, T., Kremen, C., & Thrupp, L. (2015, February). Policies to Protect Pollinators: Actions Needed to Avert a Global Crisis in Agriculture.

[9] Natural resources Conservation Service. (n.d.). Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

[10] Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, Kris A.G. Wyckhuys, Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers, Biological Conservation, Volume 232, 2019, Pages 8-27, ISSN 0006-3207,

[11] Cornelisse, T. (2021, January 7). Lawsuit launched to protect fireflies, bees, poppy under endangered species act.

[12] Spivak, M, Browning Z, Goblirsch M, Lee K, Otto C, Smart M, Wu-Smart J. 2017. Why Does Bee Health Matter? The Science Surrounding Honey Bee Health Concerns and What We Can Do About It. Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) Commentary, QTA2017. CAST, Ames, Iowa. Pp 1-16.

[13] DuBois, G., & Oren, S. (2020, September 23). Pollinator health.,in%20the%20country%20in%202012

[14] Erickson, B. E. (2020, February 3). Neonicotinoid pesticides can stay in the US market, EPA says.

[15] Udall, T. (2020, August 04). S.4406 – 116th Congress (2019-2020): Protect America’s children from toxic Pesticides Act.

[16] Thompson, D. A., Lehmler, H., Kolpin, D. W., Hladik, M. L., Vargo, J. D., Schilling, K. E., . . . Field, R. W. (2020). A critical review on the potential impacts of neonicotinoid insecticide use: Current knowledge of environmental fate, toxicity, and implications for human health. Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts, 22(6), 1315-1346. doi:10.1039/c9em00586b


3 thoughts on “Save the Pollinators by Kayla Marr

  1. I’m so glad someone wrote about this! It is terrifying to think of the widespread ramifications of a continued decline in pollinator populations but I am glad to know there may be solutions out there. I think your second recommendation is the more feasible in the short run, given its focus on human health impacts, but the former is also an attractive one. I wonder if we might see a shift in farming methods going forward to a more sustainable and ecologically complete model, which would surely include habitat support for pollinators. Off this point, if efforts by EQIP and the NRCS were generalized to encourage comprehensive reforms in agricultural methods, increased pollinator habitat could be addressed within a larger scope of establishing more efficient, sustainable, and environmentally friendly farming. Thanks for your post!

  2. Excellent and comprehensive post! I appreciate the thoroughness in addressing the importance of pollinators and a variety of potential solutions. I thought your comment about the benefits of endangered species status were particularly interesting and found that while the World Wildlife Fund boasts an impressive 99% success rate for listed species to avoid extinction, it can take up to 12 years for a species to make the list.[1] Since the ESA is often regarded as a last line of defense, this begs the question if its effectiveness is somewhat self-selected based on the species that survive long enough after initial attention to make the list. I think having the financial and political support of the ESA would be critical for many of the listed pollinator species, and wonder if the act’s effectiveness for conservation as a whole (and not just for its listed species) could be significantly improved by enhanced communication with local communities, a more streamlined nomination process, and improved flexibility and responsibility of the US Fish and Wildlife Service for regulating and petitioning the list of endangered species.

    [1] Sossamon-U, Jeff. “Endangered species wait 12 years to get on the list”. Futurity, Aug 16, 2016.

  3. Really interesting post Kayla! It’s fascinating how we often neglect the “little” things that have such an impact something as essential as food. In addition to the recommendations you made, I think it is critical to make this issue visible to the public. Changing farming practices to be more welcoming for pollinators and protecting habitats for pollinators needs to be framed in a way that is beneficial to the public as we make the shift to secure the future of food. Your suggestion with working with EQIP is really interesting, and I see potential for it if it could get enough traction. However, the reduction of dangerous pesticides seems to be more feasible and also more favorable as you noted that action is already happening. I’m really interested to see how the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act will play in hopes that it is brought to Congress.

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