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Protecting pollinators: the butterfly effect

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

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Blooming plants at Woodland Park Zoo. Photos by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo and Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

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Photos from top, clockwise: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo; Flickr user jeffreyww under Creative Commons License; Flickr user leshoward under Creative Commons License

At Woodland Park Zoo, we’re abuzz, aflutter and atwitter about the big news coming from the White House: the announcement of a new federal strategy for protecting pollinators.

With a focus on honeybees and other essential pollinators like native butterflies, birds and bats, the strategy establishes a task force and goals for population restoration, habitat protection and public education to stem the losses from this blooming crisis.

The White House makes a case for the economic importance of pollinators, which “contribute substantially to the economy of the United States and are vital to keeping fruit, nuts, and vegetables in our diets.” The memo continues: 
Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States. Over the past few decades, there has been a significant loss of pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies, from the environment. The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment.
Let’s talk the birds and the bees of pollination. During pollination, pollen from the stamen (male part of the flower) is moved to the stigma (female part), fertilizing it. This is what leads to the creation of fruits and seeds. Wind moves pollen around and is responsible for some of that fertilization. But, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 75% of all flowering plants are pollinated by bees, butterflies and other animals.

Lose the pollinators, lose the plants. Lose the plants, lose the plant eaters. Lose the plant eaters, lose the meat eaters. It brings a whole new meaning to that old standby sci-fi trope that one seemingly small change can set off a series of unintended consequences—the butterfly effect. It’s all about the connections!

A Northwest native, the Oregon silverspot butterfly. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

In the field, Woodland Park Zoo works to restore pollinator populations through our Living Northwest conservation program. Thanks to your support, we’re able to work on projects like Butterflies of the Northwest, through which we’re helping to repopulate endangered Oregon silverspot butterflies on the Oregon coast by hatching eggs here at the zoo and releasing them as caterpillars into the wild.

Conservation efforts in the field and this new governmental commitment to action are the sprout of change, but we need your help to make it grow.

Share this article with one of these badges to let your friends know which action you’ll commit to taking for pollinators:

I will go native for pollinators.
Native pollinators need native plants to thrive. Commit to planting native plants in your backyard or community. Attend a Backyard Habitat class at the zoo or visit our backyard demonstration garden in the Family Farm exhibit to pick up tips. If you live in the King County area, you can look up native plants with this handy tool

I will keep my dirt clean for pollinators.
Reduce your use of pesticides in the garden to protect the health of native pollinators attracted to your flowers. Using native plants or compost like Woodland Park Zoo’s popular Zoo Doo will help your garden flourish, and can thus reduce the need for chemical pest control, which can unintentionally kill important pollinators.

I will raise a glass for pollinators.
A portion of the purchase of each bottle of Pelican Pub & Brewery’s award-winning Silverspot IPA supports the Oregon silverspot butterfly restoration project. Look for the brew at retailers across the Seattle area.

(Badge photos from top: Mat Hayward/WPZ, Ryan Hawk/WPZ, Ryan Hawk/WPZ)