It’s a beautiful year, here in Maine, and my plot is overflowing with cabbages, spinach and cilantro up at the community gardens overlooking Portland; the Back Bay Cove spreads its sleepy waters at the feet of a small but friendly city, connecting us to the ocean. All is well and neighbors nod contentedly at each other, enjoying a chlorophyll-stained respite in gardening after work.

And there is no buzzing; no butterflies, no moths, no dragonflies, no bumblebees, no other bees or wasps, not even mosquitos. All is quiet on the soil front.

I sure hope what I’m seeing isn’t as dire as it feels, but the global numbers are in. A massive international research effort proved declining populations in as much as 80 percent of insect species, worldwide. The study is available online.

This study was a long time coming. It identified four main factors in the decline of insects. Number one was habitat loss combined with new intensive farming methods. These new methods utilized GMO “roundup ready seeds” allowing fields to be drenched in the herbicide glyphosate, exterminating all the host and nectar plants (“weeds”) needed by moths, butterflies and other insects. Increasingly, these methods also included the new neonicotinoid coated seeds which result in poisoned sap, nectar and pollen. This class of extremely effective insecticides persist for a full 36 months. That’s three generations for the insect species. You could you could hardly find a better method to disrupt the food chain.

In New York State, in 2009, I had begun making requests for local government’s pesticide records and publicizing crimes against wildlife. My new friend, the New York State Wildlife Entomologist and his friend the New York state wildlife pathologist told me that there was a shocking absence of protein at the bottom of the food chain due to sharp declines in lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and it was suspected these were due to new farming methods. The observed declines coincided with the agricultural changes. Before I left New York State, and after I had written and gotten the Legislature to pass the new Pollinator-Friendly County resolution for Albany, New York( in 2019), the stories were still reaching me from local beekeepers (who had testified for the resolution) of poisoned croplands and dying bees. Predictably, insectivorous birds were also experiencing population declines.

Many biologists were convinced that the bat epizootic (White-nose syndrome) sweeping New York State and eventually the nation, was in part, caused by the absence of food for the bats who would wake up momentarily in the winter to feed and not find the moths they needed. Starving populations get sick; Dr. McCabe, the entomologist, sorrowfully shared that in his field, fifty new bee diseases had now been identified. Insect health, bird health, bat health, crop health – these are all intimately connected.

Here I am, in our precious community garden, hoping to catch sight of some common insects soon. But nature is hardy and she rebounds. When we gather ourselves, plant untreated (organic) seeds of native plants, seed save and plant again, over and over, we can remake this world holy. To quote a very old prayer from this region, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Thanksgiving Address, “We send our greetings and our thanks to the food and medicine plants . . . and now our minds are one.”

Note: Pollinator Week starts today, June 20; you can join the 2022 Pollinator Power Party online at the Pollinator Partnership at pollinator.org. Join the worldwide movement to strengthen the web of life.

— Special to the Press Herald


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