Tucked against Washington D.C.’s 9th street expressway, the Smithsonian Butterfly Habitat Garden at the National Museum of Natural History offers an extraordinary space. This enchanting walkway provides people with peaceful, natural refuge from the hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital while also serving as a much needed habitat for the city’s local pollinators. This small but impactful gem mirrors the principles behind President Obama’s June 2014 memorandum, Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, which directs Federal agencies to take steps to protect and restore domestic populations of pollinators.
It’s clear the pollinators are in need of this kind of protection. Threatened by loss of habitat and quality food sources, as well as the improper use of pesticides and herbicides, populations of honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies have been declining over the past few decades. Managed honey bee colonies, for example, have declined steadily over the past 60 years, from 6 million in 1947 to just 2.5 million today. These losses are a huge threat to global food production and the economy. Honey bees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America, and pollinators contribute more than $24 billion to the U.S. economy each year.
That’s why the President believes the Federal Government should lead by example in expanding the acreage and quality of pollinator habitat. Today, as called for in the Presidential Memorandum, we are releasing revised guidance on Sustainable Designed Landscapes to help Federal agencies incorporate pollinator friendly practices in new construction, building renovations, landscaping improvements, and in facility leasing agreements at Federal facilities and on Federal lands. Facility managers can use the updated guidance to actively examine their current buildings, grounds, and practices for opportunities to transition to a richer diversity of pollinator-friendly plant species.
By integrating pollinator-friendly strategies into everyday design, operations, and maintenance activities, Federal agencies can have a big impact. Every day, agency managers make routine decisions that could affect pollinator populations. The easy-to-use guide will help ensure the best possible decisions are made, supporting pollinator health and habitat on millions of acres of Federal land. Additionally, the guide will serve as a valuable resource for further research on pollinators and the plant species that support them.
The new guidance isn’t the only good news for pollinators today. The General Services Administration announced today its own guidelines for facility design, construction, and management to better protect pollinators. And this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is hosting the 14th Annual North American Pollinator Protection Campaign International Conference.
With the new guidance, Federal agencies can start taking the steps necessary to protect and restore pollinator populations now. Places like the Butterfly Habitat Garden - and even the South Lawn of the White House – provide models for implementation across the nation.
View the revised guidance here.
Kate Brandt is the Federal Environmental Executive at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.