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Walz declares Minnesota’s commitment to pollinators

An executive order by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz directs state agencies to take measures to support pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL - Minnesota state agencies are fighting for pollinators.

An executive order by Gov. Tim Walz affirmed the importance of pollinators for the state and directed agencies to support pollinator habitat and promote the careful use of pesticides.

“Some of our native bee and butterfly species are now in danger of extinction, and these declines suggest that other pollinators are also at risk,” according to the order signed April 5. “Because pollinators enable wild plants and many domestic crops to reproduce, they are essential to the health of our environment, economy and way of life.”

Here are some of the actions to be taken:

  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will oversee the state’s portion of the Mid-America Monarch Butterfly Conservation Strategy, a regional effort to sustain butterfly populations.

  • Minnesota Department of Transportation will use land along state-owned roadways for pollinator habitat.

  • Minnesota Department of Agriculture will provide resources to farmers to limit the use of pesticides and promote pollinator-friendly pest management practices.

“It’s not hard to imagine the impact that the loss of pollinators would have on our food supply,'' from fruits and vegetables to the clover eaten by cattle, said Chris Schad, owner of the Bee Shed in southeastern Minnesota. The beekeeping operation promotes pollinator habitat and provides education about the importance of bees.

Though Schad said outreach efforts seem to have heightened awareness of pollinator issues in Minnesota, he said it remains to be seen how serious the state is when it comes to funding measures to support pollinators.

The executive order replaces a 2016 order by Gov. Mark Dayton that had a controversial “verification of need” requirement for farmers to use neonicotinoid pesticides, a type of pesticide that is less toxic to mammals but that studies have linked to declining pollinator populations.

State Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, chairman of a Minnesota Senate agriculture committee, commended Walz for acknowledging the concerns of farmers and rescinding the verification of need requirement.

“While we may not agree on every issue, his new executive order pertaining to pollinators appears to be restrained to state government operations on publicly owned land and it largely mirrors the practices that state agencies already practice,” Westrom said in an email.

Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap praised the executive order. He said the agriculture advocacy organization supports cooperative efforts among federal and state governments, beekeepers and farmers.

“Minnesota Farm Bureau will continue to work closely with this administration and the state agencies to make sure farmers and ranchers are represented in this continued discussion," Paap said in a statement.

The loss of pollinators in Minnesota has been a focus of conservation groups in recent years. Several species of pollinators found in the state are listed as endangered by the federal Endangered Species Act, including the rusty patched bumblebee as of 2017.

Causes for declining pollinator populations include lack of crop diversity, flowerless landscape, pesticides, parasites and disease, according to the 2017 State Agency Pollinator Report.