GAPP educates public about the importance of pollinators

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A concern for the declining populations of pollinators in the state caused Dr. Jackie Belwood and her husband, Dennis Krusac, to jump into action.

“We were very concerned about the fact that wild habitat is being lost around the country due to development and all kinds of other things,” Belwood said. “Pollinators are taking a pretty big hit because when you take places that used to have plentiful plants and flowers and native vegetation and turn it into parking lots and lawns and things like that, wildlife and pollinators don’t have a place to go.”

The declining number of pollinators is a growing concern since one-third of all food is created from the action of some kind of a pollinator, Belwood said.

“We have a tendency to think of honey bees as the sole pollinators, but it’s not just honey bees,” she said. “Pollinators by and large are in trouble. If you look at the billions of dollars’ worth of crops that are pollinated by these things, a lot of growers are extremely concerned.”

If the situation doesn’t improve, “we will begin to see a lack of food, and then food prices will go way up” in the future, Belwood said.

“If you start to look at all the things you really like to eat, like fruits and vegetables, spices, coffee, herbs — those all need pollinators,” she said.

To do their part, Belwood and Krusac developed the concept for the Greater Atlanta Pollinator Partnership about six years ago after Krusac, an endangered species biologist and pollinator conservation coordinator with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, was told by his boss that the Forest Service’s Atlanta office should help sponsor a local pollinator garden.

“As they say, we took the idea and ran with it,” said Belwood, an associate professor of biology at Georgia Highlands College for seven years.

The Acworth couple originally was asked to sponsor a single garden, but both agreed that one just wasn’t enough.

“We drew a 25-mile radius circle around Atlanta, and we said we should be looking at a space like this for a pollinator conservation program,” Belwood said. “We knew it had to be a pollinator partnership.”

Thus, GAPP was born, and volunteers spend their time educating the public about the importance of pollinators, telling people what they can do to help alleviate the problem and stressing the need for them to plant the most appropriate native plants, Belwood said.

The partnership now has more than 300 registered gardens in Georgia, most of them in metro Atlanta but some as far away as Athens, Savannah and Gainesville.

Belwood said GAPP is doing “fairly well ... considering we have no funding or staff.”

Having no funding or staff also prevents the partnership from being able to plant its own gardens or help others create their own gardens, Belwood said.

“However, in the future, we hope to be a source of seeds for others to plant,” she said.

GAPP is slowly becoming a model for promoting pollinators on a large-scale basis, according to Belwood.

For more information about GAPP, contact Belwood at jbelwood@highlands.edu.