Pollinator week: what’s the point?
It may surprise some of you that I’m not excited about Pollinator Week, June 18-24. How can someone who writes about pollinators nearly every day admit such a thing?
To me, every week is pollinator week. The conservation of pollinators is much too important to be relegated to a once-per-year “dialog” or “conversation” (terms I dislike) or to an annual count-the-butterflies day. The plant-pollinator-food chain is one of the most complex and misunderstood aspects of life of earth, and I find the idea of “Pollinator Week” diminishing rather than exalting.
In part the problem stems from the proliferation of celebrations that can last a day, a week, or a month. Besides National Pollinator Week, June 2012 contains National Fishing Week, National Clay Week, and National Camping Week. The whole month of July is National Hotdog Month. Other months contain American Craft Beer Week, National Post Card Week, and National Backyard Games Week. In the company of these other celebrations, Pollinator Week seems like a joke.
Also, Pollinator Week is vague. What the heck is a pollinator? During my undergraduate education I worked for a plant breeder. I cross pollinated alfalfa flowers—thousands of them—recorded crosses, tagged plants, and collected seed. In other words, I was a pollinator. But I get the distinct impression that the U.S. Senate was not thinking about me when they declared National Pollinator Week back in 2007.
Likewise, I hear very little talk about beetles, bats, flies, ants, birds, or the legions of Chinese farm workers who also spend their day pollinating plant life. As with most conservation efforts, all the attention focuses on spectacular or showy life forms—in this case big bees and gaudy butterflies—and the majority of species are ignored.
And while honey bees pollinate a large proportion of agricultural crops, here in the Western Hemisphere they are non-native managed livestock. Money for honey bee research comes from the agricultural industry, as well it should. Honey bee lover that I am, I don’t think conservation efforts should be aimed at honey bees here in the Americas because we can’t “conserve” something that wasn’t here in the first place.
It is difficult to grasp the complexity of pollinator conservation. It requires at least some knowledge of plant-pollinator mutualisms, geographic distribution of plants and animals, biodiversity, island biogeography, habitat fragmentation and destruction, gene pools and genetic drift, local extinction, biochemistry of pesticides, and modern farming practices . . . and that is just a beginning. Since our schools don’t do a good job with basic science and math, many kids graduate without the biology, chemistry, physics, math and statistics needed to master these tenets.
So instead of teaching concepts and principles during Pollinator Week we build bee blocks, count bumble bees, or plant a butterfly garden. These things are easy to do and popular, but they do little to reverse pollinator decline. Worse, they give the false impression that pollinator problems can be solved by spending a Saturday afternoon in the garden with a hammer and seed packet. And after that, we can move onto National Hotdog Month with a clear conscience.