LAS VEGAS (CN) - Environmentalists from numerous organizations urged the Nevada Assembly's Natural Resources Committee to approve a bill that would help the state's Department of Wildlife protect pollinators and other insects in need of conservation.
Insects, including monarch butterflies, bumble bees and other pollinators which have seen numbers decline at a rapid rate are not defined as wildlife under state law, meaning the Department of Wildlife has no authority to protect them. Assembly Bill 221 would change that by defining "non-pest invertebrate wildlife species of greatest conservation need" as wildlife.
"These insects (the Morrison bumblebee and large marble butterfly) share many things in common with the monarch butterfly. They both have large western ranges that include Nevada, and both are in deep decline and may be in danger of extinction if the declines continue," Kevin Burls, a conservation biologist for the endangered species program for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, testified at Monday's meeting.
"That's why we ask you today to recognize the importance of Nevada's insects and vote in favor of AB 221," said Burls.
Deputy director for the Nevada Conservation League, Christi Cabrera-Georgeson, said, "Insects are really critical to the health of our ecosystems. We think we should give NDOW the tools to manage these species, and we urge your support."
Assemblyman Rich DeLong, a Republican from Reno, expressed skepticism. "My takeaway from it is, insects are already in the state plan. The state plan already exists. I don't see the reason for this," he said.
Assemblyman Howard Watts, a Democrat from Las Vegas, explained to Delong that under the current state statute, the Department of Wildlife's ability to manage these species is "quite limited." Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity, agreed.
"Nevada has an incredible diversity of bees and butterflies that are the engines powering the state's beautiful desert ecosystems," Donnelly said. "We need the Department of Wildlife to have the tools to conserve these amazing creatures."
Insects like butterflies and bees are at the heart of a healthy environment. They pollinate most flowering plants, including many of the fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds that humans and wildlife depend on. The vast majority of birds, bats and freshwater fish depend on invertebrates as food. Invertebrates clean streams and rivers by filtering water, help clean up plant, animal and human waste, and support food production by controlling pests, environmental groups said in a statement.
Matt Forister, a professor in biology at the University of Nevada Reno, told the committee, "If you grew up in Reno you might have had an elementary school teacher who went out and brought in local monarch caterpillars to rear in the classroom. That is not happening anymore. That's because the western population of monarchs has declined by over 90% in recent decades." The Western bumblebee is in a similar position.
"This is not good news for healthy ecosystems in our region, but the good news is we're here today talking about this important bill," said Forister.
Burls echoed Forister's outlook.
"Nevadans strongly support conserving pollinators in the face of insect declines in the West," said Burls.
A survey by Colorado College found that 76% of Nevadans believe that the loss of pollinators such as bees and butterflies is a serious problem, with more than half ranking it as "extremely/very serious."
"This legislation would help the animals that pollinate our crops, providing one in three bites of food we eat. They're also food for our birds and fish, clean up waste in our lands and rivers, and help control pests," said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, in a statement. "If you like to eat good food and if you like birds in your trees and fish in your streams, then Nevada Assembly Bill 221 is worth supporting."
Some 66 species of invertebrates are included in the bill.
Source: Courthouse News Service