8 million people. 200,000 species. One group’s mission that ignited “the largest effort in size and scale on behalf of pollinators”.
What few people may know is that a group of creatures as diverse as hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, bats, and mice all have something in common — they are pollinators. Habitat destruction puts these creatures in immediate danger, with almost 40 percent of all pollinators facing extinction. Some populations of pollinators, like the bumblebee, experienced almost a 96 percent loss in their populations. They were threatened by pesticides, climate change, and massive destruction of habitat, especially for urban and suburban development. And spurred by a 2014 Presidential Memorandum, a year later a group of people decided they were going to do what they could to provide a home for the creatures that provide a third of the food we eat every day (estimated to be an annual $577 billion in global crops).
“The Mission of the National Pollinator Garden Network (NPGN) is to inspire individuals and community groups, institutions and the garden industry to create more pollinator habitat through sustainable gardening practices, habitat conservation and to provide these groups the tools to be successful.”The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge™ Meets its Mark 2015-2018
The National Pollinator Garden Network (NPGN) began with the intent to provide as many habitats for the invaluable pollinators as possible and to empower people to take charge on an individual level in the challenges that face the world. The original goal was to reach one million gardens for pollination protection. In the past few months, the number of gardens participating in the challenge surpassed one million by almost 40,000 gardens and now involves around 8 million people in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.
A pollinator garden provides pollinator-friendly plants like “flowering plants, trees and shrubs that offer nutrient-rich nectar and pollen, or serve as host plants for caterpillars.” While native plants are obviously better for local pollinators because they co-evolved with each other, some non-native plants can also be helpful for “generalist pollinators” like honey bees.
Many Americans already garden (almost 77 percent), so the NPGN hoped to convince many people who already maintained their greenspace to keep pollinators in mind. And small-scale gardens do make a difference — one organization even found that their newly pollinator-focused gardens “doubl[ed] the abundance and diversity of key pollinator species than found on traditionally landscaped properties.”
Some major gardening networks took up the challenge. The National Wildlife Federation, under the leadership of president and CEO Collin O’Mara, co-founded the NPGN and helped to contribute a third of the gardens committed to the challenge.
“Certified habitats transform lawns and paved areas into native plant buffets, create tree canopy that reduces carbon, provide host plants for beneficial insects and butterflies, and advance sustainable practice that reduces reliance on chemicals,” explained O’Mara. “Together, through collaborative conservation, we are restoring pollinator populations that provide the foundation of our ecosystems and our food supply.”
What this challenge has achieved went way beyond what they ever could have hoped for. Over one hundred policies were created in 39 states to protect pollinators since 2015. Hundreds of local government officials have joined additional pledges offered by the NPGN like the Mayors Monarch Pledge. And millions of people have realized that they can play a vital role in helping our environment against the challenges that threaten it.