As butterflies & honeybees disappear, the impact on Michigan could be huge

Effects range from ecology to higher grocery bills

DETROIT (WXYZ) - There’s a startling trend in both honeybees and monarch butterflies that could have major impact on farmers, anyone that buys food and the ecosystem of states like Michigan as a whole.

The monarch butterfly, a staple in Michigan, is dying off before our eyes. In fact, the U.S. government needs to determine in the next year whether they’ll add the butterfly to it’s endangered species list. Experts say that roughly 80 percent of monarch butterflies have disappeared over the past decade.

Meanwhile, honeybees are facing their own battle for survival. While not in the discussion for the endangered species list yet, honeybees are declining at rates estimated as high as 30 percent annually according to research by the Bee Informed Partnership.

WHY IT MATTERS

Honeybees and monarch butterflies are very different, but they have a major similarity: they pollinate crops throughout the United States.

It’s easy to look at a single honeybee, or a monarch butterfly, and wonder whether something so small can have that much of an impact. In reality, insects have a major impact on American crops. A Cornell study found that insect pollinators contribute roughly $29 billion to U.S. farm income.

The irony of that statistic is that one of the culprits behind the dying off of both species are the pesticides used by some in the agricultural industry. Other issues are at play, but pesticides are among the most commonly cited reasons by scientists when discussing the decline in the honeybee population.

“Without these pollinators we don’t have cherries in Traverse City, we don’t have blueberries along the lakeshore — they’re vital,” said the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Holly Vaughn.

Vaughn said that the threat of increasing prices at grocery stores becomes a reality as more insects that we rely on to pollinate plants continue to die off.

WHAT’S BEING DONE

Plenty is happening throughout Michigan in an attempt to reverse the decline of both honeybee and monarch butterfly population.

On Saturday Ford Motor Co. is launching a beekeeping program installing hives that will lead to roughly 360,000 honeybees living at Ford World Headquarters. Employees who are beekeepers in their personal lives began the program that is now growing — and they’ll be managing specialty hives created by the Ford team that look like sails.

Earlier this month the MotorCities National Heritage Area, a part of the National Park Services, brought a number of organizations together to sign a “pollinator pledge.” It essentially brought together businesses and conservation organizations that agreed to increase/improve habitats for pollinator insects, develop partnerships to continue development and to assist in the education/research of the issues presented by the loss of critical insects.

“Pollinators create our food — a third of our food — so it’s important to protect them,” said Shawn Pomaville-Size, the executive director of MotorCities National Heritage Area. “It’s not just about organizations either. It’s about people planting the things pollinators are attracted too.”

Planting food sources that honeybees and monarch butterflies are attracted too is important. Butterflies, for instance, thrive on cone flowers and milkweed. Tall grass, though not always possible due to city regulations, can benefit a number of pollinators too.

There’s also a push to cutback on the use of “neonicotinoids” in pesticides. While home gardeners may not use pesticides, some experts suggest making sure flowers, trees and shrubs you buy at a retailer aren’t grown in a location where “neonics” are used — if they are you can remove flowers the first year you plant something, and that you can always avoid spraying plants in your garden with insecticides especially flowers.

In metro Detroit events are beginning to pop up to educate the public about pollinators and the issues they face — on Saturday, August 4, the Ford House at Grosse Pointe Shores will host the second annual Pollinator Pallooza.

The event is aimed at families from kids to adults. Guests can see a living bee hive, build a “bee hotel,” and take part in honey demonstrations. Adults can learn from specialists about bees, butterflies and hummingbirds by presentations from the Ann Arbor-based Leslie Science and Nature Center.

You can learn more about the event, and sign up for tickets online now.

MONARCH BUTTERFLIES

Monarch butterflies are facing extra issues beyond insecticides including deforestation in Mexico, severe weather and the destruction of milkweed throughout their migration path.

The deforestation in Mexico is a big issue because monarch butterflies make the trip every year to survive the winter. As forests in Mexico have been illegally logged over the years it’s cutback on the protective cover that monarch butterflies rely on during the coldest parts of the season.

While the deforestation sounds like the biggest issue, the changes going on in the United States may be even more important in the near future. According to research done at the University of Iowa and University of Minnesota, nearly 60-percent of milkweed has been destroyed in the midwest due to herbicide use throughout the grasslands that monarchs rely on.

The Michigan DNR is teaming up with other organizations throughout the migration pattern to ensure specialized grasslands are being built up that include milkweed and longer grass to help stem the changes in agriculture that have caused a sudden decline in monarch butterfly population.

You can learn more about what the Michigan DNR is doing to support pollinators, here.

HONEYBEES

Honeybees are dealing with multiple issues including parasites, diseases, poor nutrition and pesticides.

Experts say that the best way you can do your part to save honeybees is to buy honey from a local beekeeper, becoming a beekeeper and avoiding the use of pesticides throughout your yard.

“We lose bees, we lose our pollinators,” said Brian Peterson-Roest. “The pollination is what’s important to our food industry.”

Peterson-Roest is the founder of Bees in the D — a program that’s been growing in size and strength over the past few years. He’s re-introducing bees to the urban environment of Detroit, while also working to grow out a “bee highway” that connects places like Ann Arbor, Dundee, and Armada.

“We’re trying to fill those gaps,” he said, “but there are a lot of beekeepers out there and they’re helping with the population as well. That’s exciting, and that’s why we’re working to foster more beekeepers too.”

While bees sting, Peterson-Roest said honeybees get a bad wrap because of wasps and yellow-jackets that are known for attacking people. He notes that honeybees are more interested in their hive and creating honey than they are in stinging humans — the good news is that more and more people are noticing their usefulness with added concern now that people realize their role in growing.

If you’d like to learn more about honeybees, or how you can support Bees in the D you can visit their website, here.

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