Colorado Native Bee Study

Colorado launches study on native pollinators

New state law calls for research; insects important for agriculture and ecology

By Jim Mimiaga Journal staff writer

The Colorado Department of Natural Resources has announced it has commissioned a study on native pollinating insects as required under a new state law.

The purpose is to understand the role insects have on natural resources, learn how their populations are changing across the state and recommend management practices and policies to address the health of native pollinators through statewide and cooperative efforts, according to a news release from Gov. Jared Polis’ office.

Pollinators are a critical link in Colorado’s food supply chain, and the governor signed a law last year to help ensure that the state continues doing its part to recognize the crucial role of pollinators and promote biodiversity,” states the release.

Climate change, disease, and other factors are causing insects and natural pollinators to decline globally and in many areas of Colorado and the American West.

“We need to better understand the health and resilience of pollinators and their ecosystems. This new study is a step our community is taking to strengthen Colorado’s pollinator ecosystems, ensure they are in a position to thrive, and help the rest of our natural world,” stated Polis.

Last summer at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Polis signed SB22-199 Native Pollinating Insects Protection Study, sponsored by Reps. Cathy Kipp and Meg Froelich and Sens. Sonya Jaquez Lewis and Kevin Priola, which created the study within the Department of Natural Resources.

The collaborative study will be conducted by Colorado State University Extension, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, in consultation with state and federal agencies, researchers, scientists, and land managers across the state.

The study must be completed and prepared for presentation to the General Assembly and the governor on or before Jan. 1, 2024.

Montezuma County CSU Extension Director Emily Lockard told The Journal the study will provide helpful information for the local agricultural community.

The Southwest Colorado apple orchard industry especially relies on pollinators, she said.

The study will also apply to an extension project working to restore degraded land with native vegetation, which relies on pollinating insects to flourish.

“There is interest for creating good pollinator habitat,” Lockard said.

The Southwest Colorado Agriculture Research Station in Yellow Jacket established a native plant pollinator patch to attract the insects.

“When it all bloomed, it was really cool how many pollinators arrived,” Lockard said.

Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources said that Colorado is home to a large and diverse community of native pollinating insects that are essential for pollinating the majority of the state’s flowering plants.

The plants are “the foundation of our food systems, support overall biodiversity, and are essential for ecosystem services such as climate regulation, erosion control, nutrient cycling, and recreation,” Gibbs said in the release. “We are proud to partner with our university and nonprofit partners to gain a fuller understanding of the status of pollinators in Colorado and what policies and measures we can pursue to ensure their long term health and sustainability.”

Deryn Davidson, CSU Extension Sustainable Landscape State Specialist, stated the project brings experts together.

“CSU Extension is partnering with leading pollinator researchers from academic institutions,” she said. “This team has been conducting research on Colorado pollinators and best management practices for decades, and now we have an opportunity to bring all of that information together. We hope to provide the most comprehensive review of Colorado pollinators in state history, identify existing practices and programs, and provide recommendations for new practices that will benefit pollinator health across the state.”

Pollinators are essential to life on earth and the health and economic stability of Colorado.

The ecological service they provide is necessary for the reproduction of over 85% of the world’s flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world’s crop species, according to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

The agency states Colorado’s insect-pollinated crops contribute over $300 million to the state’s economy.

Many of these crops depend on native pollinator populations, including squash, pumpkins, and melons, while other crops produce better and higher quality yields when pollinated by native insects. Additionally, pollinators contribute significantly to the health and resilience of Colorado’s rangelands which provide for grazing livestock and other wildlife.

The critical role of pollinators extends far beyond agriculture to the natural habitats within our parks, forests, grasslands, wild lands and green spaces, CDNR stated.

“A rich diversity of flowering plants depends on diverse species and populations of pollinators,” according to the news release.

Study Leads include, CSU Extension Sustainable Landscape Specialist Deryn Davidson; Pollinator Conservation & Nature-Based Climate Solutions Specialist Steve Armstead; Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation; and Research Associate University of Colorado Museum of Natural History Adrian Carper.

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