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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Pollinators Commentary

Air Date: Week of

In the future, picking up the components for a holiday feast may not be so easy. Gary Nabhan comments.


CURWOOD: The high holiday season is upon us again, and as we plan our holiday feast, one thing that most of us take for granted is that for a few dollars we can pick up whatever we need at our local store. Well, as commentator Gary Nabhan explains, in the future it may not be so easy.

NABHAN: My family's glorious holiday meals always remind me of the link between the cornucopia of foods we eat and the health of the ecosystems where these fruits and vegetables grow. Can you imagine Thanksgiving or Halloween without pumpkins? It nearly happened in several regions of the US this year due to a scarcity of the native solitary bees that pollinate pumpkins. These little squash and gourd bees are at constant risk from pesticides and from the destruction of their habitat.

When you look out over your holiday feast, you'll likely see sliced almonds, figs, and chestnuts. They may not always be there. The multi-million dollar almond orchards of California already have to borrow bee colonies from other states to service their flowering trees. The insects pollinating small fruit and nut orchards of the East suffer from chemicals produced by surrounding industries. Cranberry sauce and blueberry muffins, those holiday favorites, are also at risk. Twenty-five years ago, berry yields plunged nearly 75% following massive pesticide spraying in the woods near berry fields, and unfortunately manmade forces are destroying the habitats of bees, bats, butterflies, wasps, and moss that pollinate our crops.

If people think at all about these forgotten pollinators, they likely think just of the honeybee. But its population, too, is in serious decline. Since 1990, we've lost nearly a quarter of all honeybee hives in the United States. In a year when more environmental regulation rollbacks have been proposed than ever before, it's easy to understand how any retreat from protecting these species will aggravate the already serious decline in their numbers. In my home state of Arizona, alarmingly, almost half of the managed honeybee hives and 85% of the feral hives have disappeared in the last decade, and government support for beekeepers has also dried up. Before you cry "Bee welfare queens!" consider: if we lost all the honeybees in this country without any other wild pollinators taking over their chores, US food prices would likely rise by more than $6 billion a year.

Wild pollinators may seem abundant or unimportant, but it's vital to protect their habitats. The next time someone tells you to choose between jobs and the environment, invite that person over for dinner. Show them the foods that remain plentiful only because of legislation such as the Endangered Species Act. Protection for pollinators and for other threatened species is essential to protect our country's food supply. Gutting environmental safeguards is tantamount to destroying our holiday feast.

CURWOOD: Commentator Gary Nabhan lives in New Mexico. His latest book, with co-author Steven Trimble, is called The Geography of Childhood.



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