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WARNING: this blog post may entice you to partake in “virtual democracy”

By Aimee Code on 17 March 2021
Aimee Code

Protect “the little things that run the world” from the comfort of your home


“Shhh, please keep your voice down. I am about to join a meeting in Minnesota.”

When did such an extraordinary feat become commonplace? From the comfort of home, I engage in conservation efforts from Maine to California and from Tennessee to Washington. Before joining a meeting, I take a quick look over my shoulder to be sure there aren’t any abandoned socks on the chair behind me (I do have a teenager after all). Turning back to my screen, I can click “Join” knowing that no matter where that video link takes me, I’ll be met by dedicated people working to create a better world.

 

Beneath a blue sky, the clear waters of a river sparkle as it flows past pine trees
This beautiful river in southern Oregon supports three species of freshwater mussel, a notable diversity for the West Coast. An effort to have the river designated as “Wild and Scenic” is driven by this diversity; designation will bring protection to the river and the mussels. (Photo: Xerces Society / Emilie Blevins.)

 

While the use of video conferencing has been part of my routine for years, its value expanded immensely in early January, when state legislatures started virtual sessions. That pandemic-driven change opened up the democratic process by making it much easier for people to participate in important decision-making opportunities. It also gave Xerces staff better access to help craft legislation and provide expert testimony no matter the state. Without creating a laundry list, I wanted to highlight the variety of policy changes that, in spite of the pandemic, are being achieved.

  • In Maine, we’ve been part of a team working on a bill that, if passed, will halt the use of neonicotinoids in residential settings. An up-and-coming young legislator, Nichole Grohoski, introduced the bill. With her training in science, you can be sure Rep. Grohoski did her homework on both pesticides and pollinators.
  • In Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota, Xerces staff are helping with bills that respond to the very real risks posed by the disposal of pesticide treated seed.
  • In Oregon, we’re part of an effort to have an almost 10-mile-long stretch of the Williamson River designated as Wild and Scenic (one of many rivers proposed under the River Democracy Act). This stretch of the Williamson hosts three different species of freshwater mussels, and that designation will help protect the places these animals rely on. 
  • In Washington State, Xerces’ staff participated in a task force that provided pollinator protection recommendations to the legislature. The resulting bill includes multiple pollinator protection provisions such as restricting the use of nonnative commercial bumble bees (an important part of limiting disease transmission) and promoting pollinator landscapes in public works projects. The bill passed out of the state senate earlier this month and the state house is currently considering it.

Not all of our efforts are done through legislatures. In California, Xerces staff are involved in numerous policy efforts, including a legal challenge to ensure that bumble bees and other insects, which make up 75% of all life, can be protected under the state’s Endangered Species Act.

 

A large, hairy yellow and black striped bumble bee forages for nectar on a red and pale purple flower
Across the country, state legislatures are debating protections for bees and other pollinators from pesticides. (Photo: Xerces Society / Jennifer Hopwood.)

 

This work is stronger when constituents engage. So, even if I didn’t mention your state, don’t be dissuaded. More than likely, your state is considering valuable conservation bills. Find out more by contacting your state representative (website such as Open States will help) or a local environmental organization. Then a quick look at your state’s legislative website will provide simple steps for you to join hearings or submit comments. Even if you don’t feel ready to give testimony, I encourage you to attend a virtual hearing. It can be inspiring and enlightening to watch the legislative process in action.

We don’t know how much longer state legislatures will continue to offer virtual participation, but for now, democracy is extremely accessible. You can raise your voice from the comfort of your own home—just be sure to check for socks.


The Xerces Society would like to thank all the individuals who so generously support us. It is thanks to your dedication that we are able to complete this work. No funds from foundations have been used for lobbying.

Thanks also to E.O. Wilson for so eloquently describing invertebrates as “the little things that run the world.” I can think of no better way to describe the many animals that unbeknownst to most people are quietly providing invaluable services such as water filtration, pest management, waste recycling, and of course, pollination.

 

Further Reading

Read about steps you can take to protect pollinators from harmful pesticide exposures

Learn what you can do to encourage nurseries to sell bee-safe plants

Find publications and information about how to help pollinators

 

Authors

Aimée Code joined the Xerces Society in 2013 to direct its new pesticide program. In that role, she has built a program focused on securing practices and policies that promote ecologically sound pest management. She and her staff evaluate the risks of pesticides, develop technical guidance, and advocate for actions that reduce reliance on and risks of pesticide use in both urban and agricultural settings. Aimée received her master's of science in environmental health with a minor in toxicology from Oregon State University.

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