Keeping Madison buzzing, with pollinators

The City of Madison released the Pollinators Task Force Report earlier this fall to help the city combat a decrease of these essential animals.

The report contains suggestions for polices the city can implement to become more pollinator friendly. Nan Fey, the head of Madison’s Food Policy Committee, said that the report will return to the Food Policy Committee for discussion in early November, after making its way through a number of other committees.

Pollinators, which carry pollen between flowering plants, are on the decline, which may affect local and national ecosystems. Pesticide use and habitat loss are two of the biggest causes of pollinators decreasing numbers.

Satya Rhodes Conway, the Chair of the Task Force, was impressed with the amount of interest and attention that the report received from city departments and residents. 

“The city cares about this and encourages citizens to care as well,” Conway said. 

Suggested initiatives include expanding the city’s current beekeeping ordinance to more zoning districts, including appropriate pollinator protection clauses in when city-owned agricultural land is leased to farmers and partnering with the Gardens Network to encourage pollinator-friendly practices in in community gardens.

The report also suggests providing information about the benefits of restricted pesticide use to schools, neighborhood associations and other organizations that manage their own land.

Nathan Clarke of Mad Urban Bees said that he was pleasantly surprised by how few pesticides the city currently uses and felt that the report was “very well-received by the majority of city departments.” 

“I’m very hopeful,” Clarke said.

According to Clarke and Conway, pollinator population decline is something that can potentially impact everyone in Madison. Pollinators – including honeybees, native bee species, and butterflies – are crucial for agriculture. 

“One out of every three bites of food that we take is the result of pollination, and they’re the interesting bites,” Clarke said.

If pollinator numbers continue to decline, a number of fruits, vegetables and nuts will become very expensive and hard to find.

“It’s bad for the economy, and it’s bad for our dinner plates,” Conway said. “If you want to grow local foods, there’s gotta be something to pollinate it.” 

Residents also can take matters into their own hands and help make their yards more pollinator friendly.

Conway suggested being aware of when you’re applying pesticides, whether it’s before pollinators hatch in the spring, after they die off in the fall or late in the day when they’re more likely to not be active. 

She also suggested being aware of their habitat.  Some bees and butterflies live on flowers or in their dead stems, and some nest in the ground. 

“Educate yourself,” Conway said.  “Don’t disturb them, and maybe see if you can give them a little more.  There are many small and simple things you can do around your own home – you could just plant a few flowers and that would be helpful.”

Clarke also made another simple suggestion to help pollinators. 

“Don’t kill your dandelions!” he said. 

Fey expects the report to be adopt the report later in the month or by the end of the year at the latest.

“The Food Policy Council will then work with City agencies to implement the report’s recommendations on city-owned lands, to educate the community at large about our efforts, and partner with neighborhoods and other organizations on ways they can also protect and support pollinators throughout the city,” she said.