Helping to Advance Pollinator Health

February 6, 2019, Department, by Michele White, CAE, IOM

2019 February NRPA Update Advance Pollinator Health 410

If you have been paying attention to the news lately, you have probably heard about the dire situation facing pollinators, like honey bees and butterflies. Their population counts around the world are dwindling, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Since 2016, eight pollinator species in the United States have been added to the endangered species list, the most recent being the rusty patched bumble bee. Pollinators are vital to our ecosystems. Without them, life as we know it would be drastically different. Not only do our agricultural systems rely on these mighty workers, (1 in 3 bites of food are here because of them), but our local ecosystems do as well.

Understanding the urgency for action, NRPA launched Parks for Pollinators, a national campaign focused on raising public awareness about the current pollinator crisis, to encourage local action and position parks as a national leader in advancing pollinator health. The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation supported the launch of this campaign, including sponsoring a national survey to determine the public’s knowledge of pollinators and protection strategies, and determining if members of the public understood how their personal actions can make a difference. Two different surveys were conducted: a national online omnibus survey and a public survey conducted in five park agencies across the country. The results are important for our field to understand, so we can educate our communities and help them make a difference to save pollinators.

Omnibus Survey Results

The omnibus survey, reporting the views of more than 1,000 nationally representative adults, ages 18 and over, was conducted this past summer. These survey results tell a very encouraging story but also highlight that park and recreation agencies have some work to do. We learned that nearly all Americans (95 percent) agree communities should make special efforts to create designated areas for plants that support the health and growth of pollinators — with more than 2 in 3 Americans (68 percent) completely or strongly agreeing with this statement. Parents (74 percent) are more likely than non-parents (65 percent) and Americans overall (68 percent) to also completely or strongly agree with this statement. Knowing that most Americans support these actions can help inform the way we plan when building or updating our public spaces.

We also learned that while most Americans (66 percent) indicate they want to see pollinator efforts made in and by the community, they are not completely or very confident in knowing what to do when it comes to their own actions in helping to conserve pollinators. Parents and millennials are more likely to feel completely or very confident than Americans overall (43 percent and 46 percent versus 34 percent, respectively), but still more than half of all those surveyed are not as confident in the actions they can take to help conserve this vital species.

Regional Surveys Results

The regional surveys had similar results. Five agencies: Chicago Park District, Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department, City of Providence Department of Public Parks and Seattle Parks and Recreation, conducted an intercept survey with adults in their communities. More than 800 people were surveyed in parks within these agencies’ jurisdictions, with at least 100 participants from each agency. Questions ranged from basic pollinator knowledge, to the steps (if any) those surveyed individuals take at home to help pollinators and to how surveyed individuals would like to learn more about pollinator species and their habitats.

The results showed that a clear majority of participants were knowledgeable about pollinators and what issues negatively affect them. And, almost all (94 percent) agreed their personal actions play a role in the health of pollinator species. When participants were asked what barriers, if any, kept them from helping pollinators, more than half (56 percent) stated they were not sure where to start or needed more information on how to help.

Respondents were also asked what steps at home or within their community do they take, consciously or unconsciously, to support pollinators. Ninety pericent stated they do something to support pollinators, with the most noted responses being that they plant pollinator-friendly and native plants, buy and use organic, natural cleaning and gardening products, plant colorful flowers and look for outdoor garden products that are free of pesticides that are harmful to bees.

Regardless of their knowledge, a clear majority (82 percent) responded they would follow suggested actions to help protect pollinators if shown quick, easy and inexpensive ways. Nearly all respondents (96 percent) also indicated they would like to learn more about pollinators and their habitats. The most sought-after knowledge included topics, such as the types of pollinators found in their areas, gardening tips to encourage pollinators to visit and gardening products they can use that will reduce harm to pollinators.

While there is an abundance of information to comb through, it tells a great story. The public overwhelmingly supports initiatives that help pollinators and pollinator health. But they are looking for information and ways they can help make a difference. Park and recreation agencies have an opportunity to effect real change in their communities regarding saving pollinators by educating members of the public about what they can personally do to help pollinators thrive.

“We are committed to helping Americans connect with and protect the pollinator habitats in their own local parks and backyards,” says Carol Nowlin, ScottsMiracle-Gro manager for corporate social responsibility. “That’s why we are partnering with NRPA to grow people’s understanding of these vital creatures and their confidence in how to protect them.”

Many agencies are already taking steps to help educate their communities. The Dallas Park and Recreation Department, for example, places pollinator habitats in central locations throughout the city, including at City Hall, to demonstrate that pollinator habitats are suitable for all spaces. Dallas also hosts bio blitzes to engage citizen scientists and help their agency survey pollinator populations. Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department, in collaboration with the University of Florida IFAS Extension Office in Miami-Dade County, hosts workshops and tabling events to educate the public about the importance of pollinators and how to help. St. Louis County Parks in Missouri partners with a local botanical garden, local gardening clubs, for-profit garden centers and universities to host educational workshops and disseminate information through its Pollinator Pantry program. It even has a Master Pollinator Steward program. And, many other agencies host volunteer days to plant pollinator habitats, hold festivals focused on pollinators and raise monarchs, just to name a few.

Through a multitude of educational offerings, any agency can find ways to share knowledge with its community members to encourage local action. Whether its hosting workshops, partnering with your local conservation groups, providing general education or hosting a bio blitz, parks and recreation can make a difference!

Michele White, CAE, IOM, an NRPA Program Manager