A state program will be a step towards finding and tracking plant-pollinating insects and animals, possibly helping Colorado's agriculture industry be more efficient.
Governor Jared Polis signed bill SB22-199 on May 27 at the Butterfly Pavilion that would require a study on the challenges associated with native pollinating populations.
The study would be spearheaded by the executive director of the department of natural resources. The results of the study would be submitted to Colorado’s general assembly and the governor, equipped with recommendations on how to solve the problems.
Amy Yarger, horticulture director at the Butterfly Pavilion, said it’s an important bill because there is little information on the status of local pollinator populations.
“Pollinators are so important, but there's so little research out there,” she said.
A pollinator is an animal or insect that is carrying pollen from one plant to another, Yarger said.
“Animals, like pollinators, are helping plants be more productive and efficient and about three-quarters of our plants rely on these animals to do this service for them and that includes a lot of our agricultural crops,” she said.
Signing the bill at the Pavilion was fitting because they already have their footing in pollinator conservation. In 2019, they started the Pollinator District program that creates better habitats for pollinators in communities.
A pollinator district is a community that makes a commitment to have more pollinator habitats, Yarger explained.
“We actually want to see a demonstrable increase in habitat and in pollinators,” she said. “It's really about the community and all the different parts of the community coming together to make a commitment to conserve pollinators.”
That increase relies on team players that work together in communities to either renovate or create new habitats for pollinators.
Those habitats will be specific to the area.
“Depending on where the pollinator district is, that's going to determine the plants for that site, because as you know, you can be in a different part of Colorado and see completely different plants around, completely different climate conditions,” Yarger said. “If you're up higher, you're going to have a shorter season. If you're out west, it's going to be hotter and drier.”
Native pollinators prefer native plants to Colorado, she explained, so much of that habitat should be native. However, pollinators need multiple plants to support the multiple parts of the life cycle.
For example, butterflies need flowering plants to harvest nectar. They also need specific host plants to lay their eggs on at the beginning of the life cycle.
A pollinator district can also manifest in many different ways. It could be a garden on the side of a warehouse, Milkweed in a road median, a habitat between apartment buildings or pockets of plants in people’s yards.
Those habitats, though, should be connected through corridors. Some pollinators cannot fly very far from plant to plant, so making short pathways is a critical goal of the pavilion.
“Our essential goal is to have enough communities that we're working with that we can establish some major flyways throughout the state,” Yarger said.
So far, those communities include the Baseline development in Broomfield, Manitou Springs, a community in Elizabeth called Independence, Boulder and a few projects in Denver.
Benefits of urban pollinators
With more and more local agriculture happening in suburban and urban areas, pollinators are becoming crucial to supporting those endeavors, Yarger explained.
“I was in Arvada and there are so many properties that didn’t use to be farms that are now farms, and they're very small, usually organic, local farms that are growing a lot of the produce that then ends up in our farmers' markets,” she said. “From a local food perspective, it's really important to have pollinators in those places where we're getting our local food.”
Urban habitats also connect pollinators to the rural areas with farms.
“In many cases, those rivers that are going through cities, thinking about the rivers that go through Golden or through Denver, those are connectors so we need pollinator habitat along those corridors that connect the rural areas, just so the population can be healthy across their entire range,” she said.
Additionally, Yarger said the increase in flooding and fires and healthy pollinator environments in highly populated areas has become even more important.
“Supporting healthy water and healthy soil and fire mitigation, all of those things, can be supported through (native habitats) and pollinators,” she said. “I think for our cities to be safe and resilient (to climate change) we need to rethink how we treat the land in urban and suburban areas and be thinking more about how we can make sure that biodiversity is there to support all the functions that we need to keep our people safe.”