Guest Blog by Olivia Eskew
Over the past few years, there has been an increasing interest in pollinator-friendly habitat on solar sites. Drawn by the opportunity to diversify farm income with a 20-30-year land lease, farmers are increasingly considering whether solar is right for a portion of their property. These sites, ranging in size from 5 to over 100 acres, are a new land use that draws the interest of neighbors and local leaders. Drastically different from early-stage solar development in the desert southwest, a growing body of research indicates the land under and around solar arrays may be managed to support wildlife, including pollinators and other beneficial insects that can contribute to increased crop yields.
Historically, grass has been kept under control by labor intensive mechanical mowing and weeds have been spot sprayed if necessary. In some regions, sheep grazing within the facility may be utilized to control vegetation. Sites are maintained approximately 5-9 times per year during the growing season, depending on location. While providing a renewable source of energy is admirable, many solar companies are seeking ways to contribute even more to sustaining the environment and benefiting local agriculture.
Implementing pollinator programs necessitates identifying native seed mixes to support pollinator habitats that are ecologically appropriate and well adapted to the region and site. Rather than broadly spraying herbicides and mowing to ensure weed control, proper monitoring and evaluation are recommended to reduce maintenance operations. For example, pollinator habitat on solar sites may be maintained by mowing in the winter to encourage natives to outcompete non-native species, planting low-growing forage for pollinators under and between solar arrays, and actively managing and spot treating noxious and invasive plant species.
A 2016 study in the United Kingdom conducted by experienced ecologists reported that when solar sites are managed as foraging habitat for pollinators, “[They] are likely to provide further benefits to humanity including carbon storage, water cycling, erosion control and provision of pest controlling species such as solitary wasps and farmland birds…There are very few other ways that farmers can earn a sustainable amount of money by creating large areas of conservation habitat.” The Department of Energy hosted a webinar in early 2017 in which Rob Davis of Fresh Energy listed the potential benefits of pollinator-friendly habitat creation on solar farms: increases in gross revenues, improvements in crops yields on surrounding farmlands, decreased operations and maintenance costs due to a reduction in mowing, enhanced storm water performance, and zoning advantages.
Some states have produced pollinator-friendly habitat scorecards: Minnesota, Vermont, and Maryland (to be published in August). Multiple states have enacted laws that encourage pollinator-friendly practices for solar arrays through proposed land use policies, such as reducing penalties for land taken out of conservation easements if pollinator-friendly management is adopted.
The colonists brought honey bees with them from Europe in the 1600s, introducing the first honey bees to North America. However, North America has about 4000 species of indigenous bee species that are equally beneficial pollinators, and even better in many cases, than honey bees. Unlike honey bees, native bees do not produce honey, and most of them live out their lives in relatively small areas so we can’t transport them in boxes by the thousands to crops as they bloom around the country.
Pollinators provide an ecological service required by 90% of the world’s wild plant species and 75% of crops. Annually, native bees contribute more than $3 billion to the U.S. agricultural economy. Commercially managed honey bees contribute more than $15 billion each year due to pollination for over 100 crops. A 2016 report from the United Nations elaborates why we are so concerned about pollinators these days: “More than 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species, particularly bees and butterflies, face extinction” which places the United States, as well as other nations, in direct threatening food crises. Solar sites can significantly contribute to the health of both honey bees and native pollinators.
From an industry-wide perspective, Cypress Creek Renewables, CCR, is investigating the feasibility of a scalable implementation plan to make almost all solar sites pollinator-friendly. CCR is also collaborating with local beekeepers to investigate the possibility of placing bee hives adjacent to new and existing solar arrays. Doing so acknowledges the importance of benefitting local agriculture and engaging private-sector investment in addressing the pollinator crisis. As recently observed in a National Geographic feature story, Solar Honey is the epitome of collaboration and local-based efforts to further infiltrate the notion of productive and environmentally-conscious land use when a farmer chooses to lease agricultural land for a solar array.
Contact Olivia Eskew at Olivia.firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Fort Collins, Colorado, brewery, New Belgium Brewing, scouted for an East Coast location in 2009, they chose Asheville, North Carolina, the home of Beer City USA, and by 2012, Bee City USA.
This 100% employee-owned company is anything but conventional; they specifically asked for help finding a brownfield to build on! They found their site next to the French Broad River, flowing through the city in an old industrial area that was experiencing a renaissance, complete with art studios, restaurants and greenways.
With environmental stewardship as one of New Belgium’s core values, they remediated the former livestock market’s contaminated soil and began converting the 18-acre parcel into lush pollinator habitat, rich in a diversity of native plants, shrubs and trees and free of pesticides, with the exception of herbiciding a very aggressive exotic invasive species.
In August 2016, New Belgium staff came out on a Sunday morning and planted 500 milkweed plants – donated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Monarch Watch - around the brewery. In a case of “build it and they will come,” six weeks after planting, they found their young milkweed covered in monarch caterpillars! Some of them were crawling across the sidewalk from milkweed in planter islands to find a place to transform into chrysalides. Staff even found a chrysalis hanging on a hose reel.
At one point when the hungry caterpillars had eaten nearly all the leaves off the plants, friends at UNC-Asheville (a Bee Campus USA affiliate) came to the rescue and donated over 100 more milkweed plants to help feed them. Sharing a few of the caterpillars with local schools so students could raise and release them, they carefully protected every stray they found until it became a butterfly and took flight toward Mexico to overwinter.
New Belgium sustainability specialist Sarah Fraser recently led a tour during National Pollinator Week 2017, pointing out the role that well adapted native plants also are playing in their storm water management system and rain gardens. Filled with tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), meadowsweet (Spirea virginiana), blazing star (Liatris spicata), St. Johns’ Wort (Hypericum calycinum), tickseed (Coreopsis spp.), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), southern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla sessilifolia), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and many, many other locally native species, the landscape is maturing and supporting all manner of pollinators. Brownfield soil has been mounded up into a berm covered in a meadow of flowering plants that are bioremediating the contaminants. The tour’s grand finale was looking over the ephemeral Penland Creek from the bridge, where towering banks were draped in flowers much like the legendary hanging gardens of Babylon might have looked!
New Belgium is demonstrating that corporate campuses can be beautiful AND provide habitat for pollinators and birds year-round. This walk is well worth taking on your next visit to Asheville.
Many thanks to New Belgium for donating tips from their Liquid Center (tasting room) to Bee City USA during National Pollinator Week!
Back in 2015, Seattle was the eighth city in the nation to become a Bee City USA affiliate. Thanks to Bob Redmond, at the Common Acre, for sharing these photos from the Bee City USA--Seattle program where the City of Seattle and Central Co-op continue bringing advocates together to enhance pollinator habitat! Krista Conner and others at the Puget Sound Beekeepers are also working on habitat enhancements for wild bees along a major pedestrian/bicycle trail. Thanks to Seattle for all the pollinator love!
The Common Acre's "Green Line" project has broken ground on one acre of bee habitat under the power lines in South Seattle. Bob Redmond's son (the boy with the wheelbarrow) is already a conservationist!
Artist Sally Lesesne was so moved by the plight of the pollinators and the work of Bee City USA, that she decided to create a special work of art to help.
"The Beekeeper." Sally's tribute to all beekeepers, will be on display in the lobby of the Renaissance Asheville Hotel throughout Asheville's annual Pollination Celebration! during the month of June, 2017.
The painting will be raffled off from May 28 to August 30, unless we sell all 250 tickets before August 30. Tickets are $20 each and may be purchased here. We will draw the lucky winner at noon Eastern Standard Time on August 31.
Sally has been a professional painter for more than thirty years. A native of South Carolina, she studied at Converse College, the University of Tennessee, and at Oxford University in England under Joe Winkelman, then president of the Royal Society of Printers and Etchers. She has exhibited in the U.S. and England, and her work is in private, public, and corporate collections. She has taught at the Gibbs Art Gallery and Ashley Hall in Charleston, South Carolina. Her summers are spent traveling and painting "en plein-air." An annual family trip to an ancestral chateau in the Loire Valley in France is often partnered with trips to other locations; Provence, the Mediterranean, or Tuscany. She has also painted in the English Lake District, the Austrian Alps, and in China, as well as New England, Canada, the Bahamas, and the coast of the southeastern U.S.
America's roadsides offer millions of miles of opportunity for healthy, pesticide-free habitat, rich in native wildflowers in long, CONNECTED corridors. However, historically, for safety and aesthetic reasons, those roadsides have been heavily mowed and sprayed.
With growing awareness of how threatened and important pollinators are both to human food security and planetary resilience, many roadside managers are considering management changes that would address safety, and result in even more aesthetically pleasing roadsides while providing vital food and shelter for pollinators. In many cases, these new management practices could even save money!
The recent announcement of the nation's first pollinator highway is a great example. Remarkably, both Colorado's House and Senate passed the resolution unanimously to designate Highway 76 from the Nebraska state line to Arvada, Colorado, the "Colorado Pollinator Highway."
Last year, the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign launched an award to bring attention to roadside managers who are committed to pollinator conservation. Nominations for the NAPPC Roadside Managers Award are due by June 26, 2017. Anybody can nominate a government transportation agency including the agency itself. We hope to receive lots of nominations that will showcase the transition in roadside management occurring around the country and inspire other roadside managers to explore their own opportunities to be pollinator conservationists.
By Phyllis Stiles, Executive Director of Bee City USA
Realizing that perhaps as few as 1% of monarch eggs will ever reach adulthood, monarch advocates from the eastern side of the Rockies to the east coast scan their milkweed for eggs as monarch butterflies fly up from Mexico toward Canada in the spring.
The journey is carefully plotted on the Journey North map, thanks to hundreds of citizen scientists who report the first adult monarch, egg, larva, and milkweed seen each year, all along the monarchs’ route. While it only takes one generation to fly from Canada to Mexico, it takes four-five generations before monarchs return to overwinter in Mexico’s high Oyamel Fir forest sanctuaries.
Monarch enthusiasts try to collect the eggs before they become caterpillars which are vulnerable to tachinid flies and other parasitoids. Often referred to as the “monarchy,” these crazy cat (short for caterpillar) people are sometimes forced to sneak around at night in search of fresh milkweed leaves for their ravenous babies. Kitchen counters become changing stations for critter cages filling up with monarch frass (a technical term for poop).
Bee City USA® board member and environmental educator, Kim Bailey, has been a crazy cat lady for many years. Kim first visited the monarch overwintering sanctuaries in Mexico in 2002 and has since co-led several trips. Her butterfly garden was the first in Georgia to be certified as a Monarch Waystation in 2005. Today, there are over 15,000 habitats certified. Kim is a new milkweed seed supplier for Sow True Seed, raising multiple species of milkweed at her Milkweed Meadows Farm in Fruitland, NC.
This year she reared more than 200 monarchs to give away as chrysalides to teachers and her fellow beekeepers. Kim says, “There’s no better way to recruit more people to the monarchy than to have them personally experience the chrysalis’ transformation to a butterfly. It is absolutely miraculous, especially watching the two parts of their tongue (proboscis) zip together!”
(Convenient bug tents are available from Bugdorm.com.)
At Monday night’s beekeeping meeting, Kim gave away more than 20 to-go cups with two chrysalides inside, resting on a cotton ball, for adoptive parents to take home. They will carefully suspend the chrysalides in a large jar or critter cage with ventilation, then watch and wait for their transformation. A color change signals when the time is near.
Once emerged, the butterflies’ wings need to dry for about four hours before they can attempt flight. They may be then released to continue their role in sustaining their species and the great monarch migration.
Want to learn more about efforts to conserve North American monarchs? Visit the Monarch Joint Venture website.
Last night, Asheville's WLOS News 13 aired a special story about what the recent listing of the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered actually means. According to US Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist Bryan Tompkins, the rusty patched bumble bee used to be fairly common in the Southern Appalachians but has not been seen since around 2001.
Both bumble and honey bees are social bees that live as colonies. Unlike honey bees, which nest in above ground cavities, bumble bees generally nest in the ground.
Today, "Current" records cover only about 0.1% of of the rusty patched bumble bee's historical range with the core of those "Current" records being in the upper midwest. This link provides additional information regarding the Current and Historic records for this endangered bee. Tompkins is southeast region lead for the US Fish and Wildlife Service's work on the rusty patched bumble bee, especially work to determine if any populations remain in the southeast. This summer, he will be recruiting citizen scientists to help in that search which will contribute the the species' Recovery Plan.
Pollinator advocates like Bee City USA and the Xerces Society hope the first listing of a bee species in the continental United States will bring attention to all native bees, but especially bumble bees. There are about 250 species of bumble bees in the world, 47 of which are native to North America. According to the Xerces Society, a leader in bumble bee conservation, more than one quarter (28%) of all North American bumble bees are facing some degree of extinction risk. They are threatened by "habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, and climate change. Unlike honeybees which have large (>10,000 individuals) perennial hives, bumble bees produce smaller annual colonies (50-1,500 individuals). Due to their smaller annual population sizes, life cycle, and genetic makeup, they are uniquely susceptible to extinction."
WLOS News 13 reporter Tanja Rekhi and cameraman Jordan Powell spent the day interviewing Asheville GreenWorks environmental educator Christine Brown at Glen Arden Elementary School where they had recently planted a pollinator garden with Eco-Readers Club students; at a private residence with Annie and Jeff Menzer, owners of Natural Gardeners landscaping company; at Pat Sommers's Natural Selections nursery; and at UNC Asheville's bee hotel with environmental specialist Jackie Hamstead. UNC Asheville is a certified Bee Campus USA affiliate and Asheville became the first Bee City USA affiliate in 2012.
To learn more about the rusty patched bumble bee, watch the 19-minute documentary A Ghost in the Making produced by Neil Losin, Nate Dappen and Clay Bolt.
Little Steps Add Up
by Janiece Meek
So often, we associate making a difference in the world with actions that are as dramatic as sunrises or as fireworks displayed across a dark July sky. But, Jennifer Maves’ quiet, patient approach of taking little steps toward big changes is both approachable and exceedingly powerful.
Jennifer’s journey leading to the establishment of her plant-based skin care line consisted of taking one step after the other in the direction of her deepening interest in botanicals. A Midwest transplant, Jennifer came to the Asheville area in 2008 to create a healthier, sustainable lifestyle. Her early interest in herbal medicine grew into an all-out passion for botanicals, holistic medicine and aromatherapy, and in 2013, ZenJenSkin was born. Crafting infused oils and tinctures ignited her curiosity, leading her toward the use of active ingredients which calm itching skin, deter biting insects, and repair aging skin.
On her half-acre urban farm, Jennifer keeps a medicinal garden from which she plucks yarrow, catnip and nettles to create small batches, and thinks we have come to take for granted some of nature’s most powerful ingredients. Honey, for example, has potent antibacterial properties, and for this reason, is an ingredient in her facial masque formula which aids in the treatment of acne. Honey, for example, has potent antibacterial properties, it is highly nutritional and deeply moisturizing, and for this reason, it is a main ingredient in her Crepey Skin Repair and homemade masks.
It’s easy to connect the dots between Jennifer’s passion for the plant world, the essential relationship between bees and botanicals, and her support of Bee City USA. But beyond that, she feels strongly that people should know and appreciate the critical role of bees as pollinators. “Seventy-five percent of the world’s crops depend on the work of pollination done by bees. That’s how important they are.”
But, Jennifer is not standing on the sidelines wringing her hands. She is engaged with helping pollinators in a way that is both meaningful and manageable at this point in her life. And so, she is optimistic that we won’t have to reach a point where we’ve lost the bees. “Often, people create things out of anger and fear. You don’t need to do that. Create things out of love, because it goes so much further.”
That’s where community-minded philanthropy enters, “You should support what you believe in, and you don’t have to reach the whole world. I like to keep it in the community.”
She’s a member of the Buncombe County [NC] Bee Club, and aspires to keep bees perhaps next year, but realizes not everyone is inclined or able to do this. This is yet one more opportunity to think in terms of taking small steps to have an impact. For example, “If you care about nature and bees, you can volunteer your time or give automatic monthly support to an organization like Bee City USA.” She also offers that simple acts such as using bee-attracting plants and bee-friendly water sources in your landscape, together with avoiding the use of pesticides, will have an impact. “That’s where little changes, little steps all add up.”
Jennifer gets it. What she’s describing is the collective mind of the hive, with all of us working in unison, each in our own way, to do valuable work. And that is a very optimistic proposition.
Bee City USA founder and executive director, Phyllis Stiles, is very honored to speak at the Smithsonian's first Earth Optimism Summit this Saturday, April 22.
On Friday and Saturday, there will concurrent "Deep Dive" sessions organized by themes. Stiles will introduce the Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA programs during the "At Home With Conservation: Backyards, back lots, school yards, and shore fronts" session from 3:45 to 5:00 Saturday at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Other presenters for this session are Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home; Teddy Ammon, Teens Dream co-creator; Jeff Holland, Riverkeeper for the West and Rhodes Rivers; and Joanna Ogburn, expert in building multi-stakeholder collaboration. Research scientist for the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, Gary Krupnick, will moderate the session.
Earth Optimism celebrates a change in focus from problem to solution in the area of global conservation with an unprecedented gathering of thought leaders, scientists, environmentalists, artists, civic leaders and international media. To purchase tickets, click here. On Sunday, programs are open and free to the public.
Just as I drove in my driveway yesterday, I noticed a monarch butterfly where we planted milkweed several years ago. She flew away just as I approached. Holding my breath, I inched toward the tender milkweed plant, with its four newly emerged leaves and lifted a leaf. There was her egg! It may sound corny, but it was one of the most exciting moments of my life.
I am fairly new to monarch conservation having only gotten involved with pollinators when my husband became a beekeeper in 2008 which led me to found Bee City USA in 2012. But across the United States, for many years devoted citizen scientists have marked spring by noting when they see their first monarch and their first monarch egg on the Journey North site. Their records have led to new discoveries about the monarch migration.
Recently, the Monarch Joint Venture (MJV) named Bee City USA a "partner," a proud moment for us. The Monarch Joint Venture is a partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental agencies, and academic programs working together to protect monarchs and their migration. Partners are experts in the fields of monarch conservation and education and are working to make colossal progress toward MJV's ultimate goal of monarch conservation in the U.S. in cooperation with conservationists in Canada and Mexico. You can read about the North American Monarch Conservation Plan here.
Bee City USA and its sister program, Bee Campus USA, represent growing national networks of communities and academic institutions across America committed to pollinator conservation. That conservation starts with awareness, then education, and finally enhanced habitat for pollinators, rich in a diversity of locally native plants that are free of harmful pesticides.
Milkweed is baby food for monarch caterpillars, but when they become adult butterflies, they don't eat milkweed leaves anymore. Indeed, their new mouthparts couldn't chew a leaf if they wanted to! As you watch a newborn monarch butterfly emerging from their bejeweled chrysalis, you will witness their straw-like proboscis roll out in two parts and magically join together--zipperlike--never to separate again. Their "tongue" is uniquely designed for carefully plunging into flower nectaries to supply the carbohydrates necessary for flight.
Bee City USA urges everyone to plant locally native milkweed in their yard, and if you don't have a yard, join forces with community organizations to plant milkweed. The monarchs will find it! The bonus is that milkweed provides plentiful nectar for a wide variety of pollinators, including most species of bees.
I dream of a day when once again children can look up to see migrating monarchs blacken out the sun.
Phyllis Stiles is founder and director of Bee City USA. Learn more about Bee City USA here.
Header photo by: Nancy Lee Adamson
These are the opinions and events of interest to the Bee City USA director and board.