The Department of Ag’s Pollinator Summit didn’t reach very high

The Department of Agriculture’s Pollinator Summit was held on February 12. Its intended outcome was clear: plant more flowers, especially along highways, and not much more. Planting flowers is super but, at the scale proposed, will do little to stop pollinator decline.

DNR estimates that a living roadside habitat program would cover only 0.8% of the acreage of the state. And establishing native habitat to replace current plantings would take many years. The legislature has already amended our statues to require upgrading habitat on the rest of state lands.

Dr. Eric Runquist from the Minnesota Zoo talked about two native butterflies that are endanger of extinction and in the course of his presentation said that he found lethal levels of pesticide drift from arial spraying a half mile from the intended site.

We have no idea how many native pollinators we have lost or what the rate of loss is. Many want to concentrate on honey bees but our House staff estimates that honey bees pollinate only about 3-6 percent of the acres in Minnesota. The rest of the work is done by native species.

On the morning of the 12th, the Star Tribune published a commentary piece by Rep. Rick Hansen. After describing the problem Hansen said:

  • At a minimum, these recommendations should emerge from the Pollinator Summit if we’re to see progress and not just small steps that will appease big agricultural-chemical companies:

    •  Stop using neonics on state lands. There is no reason neonic-treated seeds or plants should be planted on state lands, especially if those public lands are meant to protect, restore, and enhance water and wildlife.

    •  Farmers deserve a choice. When registering pesticides, the state Agriculture Department must insist that these large, multinational agricultural/chemical companies offer farmers an untreated seed option.

    •  Create pollinator-safe zones. To protect pollinating bees, bugs and butterflies from lethal drift, the Agriculture Department should follow the lead of other states and use its authority to place protective limits on where pollinator-lethal pesticides can be sprayed.

    •  Start looking to determine full effects and impacts of the new chemistry. Testing and analyzing food and water for neonics is important, because we need to better understand the risk neonics pose to people and the environment. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also should begin testing wildlife for neonics so we know about any unintended consequences.

    •  Create protected habitat and corridors. Honeybees are one of many pollinators. If native pollinators are to make a comeback and thrive, then we need protected habitat and corridors that are both free of pollinator-lethal pesticides and have ample flowers from spring through fall.

    At the end of the Friday session, participants were asked to put dots on the recommended ideas from working groups. Rick’s five point plan received the most dots. I eagerly await Ag’s report on the forum!