NYS: Ecologically Sound Policy For Pollinators!

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We must act swiftly to reverse the decline of our native pollinators.

Landowners in New York State wishing to contribute to pollinator conservation are burdened by the Property Maintenance Code of New York State, specifically §PM302.4.

They are being fined for their gardening methods which are suggested by the best management practices of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

We request the amendment of this law so that it is aligned with these best management practices and suggestions. No native plant should be illegal, regardless of it's size.

We also request the implementation of state funding programs for municipally run conservation initiatives to ensure the survival of native pollinator populations, especially in urban and suburban areas, similar to those recently announced programs in the State of Minnesota.

Today, American lawns occupy 40,000,000 acres of land. Technically under this law, virtually all of that potential pollinator habitat contained within New York is compelled to be destroyed.

Please view our FAQ, Guidance, and Information Update for more information about what you can do to save pollinators or continue to read below for more background information and our explicit policy suggestions.

Please contact us by email: PollinatorPolicyChange@gmail.com to have any questions or concerns addressed, or for collaboration opportunities.

Please do not donate to this campaign via this platform. Instead contribute directly to the numerous conservation entities working toward a more verdant New York.

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Background:

The plight of insects and pollinators is a story everyone should know. Native pollinators are crucial to functioning ecosystems, and to our food supply. Habitat loss, neonicotinoid pesticide use, and exotic pathogens are the largest contributors to the downfall of bee populations, however bees are not our only native pollinators.

Critically, the federally endangered rusty-patch bumble bee (Bombus affinis) was considered extirpated (locally extinct) in New York State in the year 2000. The American bumble bee (Bombus pensylvanicus), and northern amber bumble bee are both state listed as S1 - Critically Imperiled in New York. A 2013 study surveying New York bees found at least 49 of our native bee species to be in decline or rare and potentially threatened, and a total of 8 species of bee are nationally endangered.

We must act swiftly to reverse the decline of our native pollinators.

The New York State Natural Heritage program states "actions for habitat management should include ensuring nectar availability throughout the spring and summer by improving flower abundance and species richness and species with overlapping blooms."

The New York State Department of Conservation suggests to do this that we "Grow More, Mow Less: You can help pollinators... by reducing the area of your property that you mow... consider letting an area of your lawn grow long"

A best management practice stated within the State Pollinator Protection Plan (Appendix E, page 42), is to "promote homeowner planting of bee/pollinator forage material."

However, landowners' capacity to contribute to pollinator habitat management through increasing forage material as suggested by the DEC is hindered by the vague wording, and the selective use of sanctioning under Section 302.4 of the Property Maintenance Code of New York State, especially for landowners in suburban and urban landscapes without the funds to create vibrant pollinator gardens. This law requires amendment and clarification in order for citizens to lawfully contribute to habitat creation on their property, as it is ostensibly arbitrary and not ecologically sound. Many aspects of this law are not defined by other codes as per §PM201.3 or have ambiguous accepted meanings that are not generally understood as per §PM201.4.

Section 302.4 of the Property Maintenance Code of New York State is as follows:

§PM302.4 Weeds. All premises and immediate exterior property shall be maintained free from weeds or plant growth in excess of 10 inches (254 mm). All noxious weeds shall be prohibited. Weeds shall be defined as all grasses, annual plants and vegetation, other than trees or shrubs provided; however, this term shall not include cultivated flowers and gardens.

Clarification is needed on definitions of: immediate exterior property, and cultivated flowers and gardens as these do not have ordinarily accepted meanings, or are ambiguous such as the context implies. What exactly is a garden, and isn't the act of allowing native flowers to grow on your lawn by not mowing them an act of cultivation?  Why are we compelled to destroy so much to maintain so little?

We suggest an amendment to the definition of a weed to exempt native and protected plant species, as well as "bee lawns", to align our policy to be more ecologically sound.

Suggested wording of 302.4: "All premises must be maintained free of noxious and invasive species as defined by the NYSDEC." 

This amendment will enable municipalities to codify and enforce their own versions of aesthetics and conservation, without hindrance at the State level, while discouraging invasive species and outright neglect by property owners. 

Investigate Municipal Pollinator Programs: 

Recently, Senator Charles Schumer called on the USDA to resume honey bee studies and acknowledged the importance of bee populations. Albany county passed legislation to promote pollinators thanks to the efforts of local friends groups, community organizers, and bee keepers. The State of Minnesota has recently set aside money which will be given to homeowners wishing to produce pollinator habitat on their property.

The ecological services insects provide to the United States has been estimated to be at least $57 billion.

Given the acknowledged urgency in the protection of our bees and other pollinators, and the immense economic value that they have on our society, we request the immediate investigation of municipal pollinator protection plans and their viability within New York State, and funding to support those programs from the State. Programs such as those in Albany or Minnesota may benefit native pollinator populations throughout New York through the financial assistance in the creation of small scale habitat on private property, especially in urban and suburban areas. 

We believe these changes to the New York Property Maintenance Code, and implementation of municipally run programs such as these will allow communities to direct how conservation is handled locally while discouraging outright neglect instead of being constrained by ecologically unsound Maintenance Codes.

We believe these actions will create a more verdant and biodiverse New York.

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Photo credit : Melissa McMasters (use under creative commons)