By Phyllis Stiles,
Director, Bee City USA
Thanks to volunteer Scott Offord at beepods, Bee City USA realized a longstanding dream this year. When cities/counties and institutions of higher education become certified as Bee City USA or Bee Campus USA affiliates, one of the commitments they make is to provide an annual report that is published each January summarizing their previous year’s accomplishments in pollinator conservation and awareness.
We had always wanted Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates to know about the innovative work their counterparts were doing. While at Bee City USA headquarters we hear incredible stories of winning new friends for pollinators and enhancing habitat for pollinators from our affiliates on a daily basis, there is simply no way we can communicate the ingenuity and joy expressed in each of those stories. We've always known the affiliates need to be able to tell their own stories. But how?
Experienced webmaster Scott Offord had the answer. He created a website just for annual reports, with a template page dedicated to each affiliate's story. Simple! The affiliates just place their text and photos into the "slots" provided, and Voila!, they communicate their year of achievements on a single webpage, available 24/7 around the world, complete with contact information if the reader wants to get in touch directly with the affiliate for more information. How empowering!
While city and college staff lead or support many of these efforts, passionate volunteers are at the forefront of most. These reports are bursting with inspiring stories of communities planting pesticide-free habitat rich in a diversity of locally native plants, discussing their community’s pest management policies with pollinators in mind, and hosting events for young and old to create awe for and greater understanding of the plant-pollinator collaboration that makes our planet bloom and fruit.
These reports inspire our national network of Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates with new, more efficient, more cost effective, more creative, or generally more impactful approaches. Thanks to Scott Offord for making our dream a reality!
By Diane Almond, Bee City USA Founding Steering Committee Member and Education Advisor
Did you know that after more than three years of efforts by the Republic of Slovenia, the United Nations adopted a resolution declaring May 20 as World Bee Day? Passed unanimously in November 2017, the resolution was co-sponsored by 115 member states including some of the largest: USA, Canada, China, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, India and all EU Member States.
Slovenia’s proposal to the UN addressed the need to raise awareness of honey bees’ essential role as pollinators for ecological balance (biodiversity) and food security and to acknowledge the urgent need to address growing worldwide challenges especially sustainable, sufficient food production; adaptation to climate change; and diminishing natural resources such as arable land and water supply.
The Slovenian proposal summarized that over the last 50 years, “…bees have become increasingly endangered, particularly in the areas with intense agriculture. Shrinking habitat along with negative effects of expanding monoculture areas as well as modified and intensified grassland cultivation technology have led to declines in the development of bee colonies. The situation is made worse by new bee diseases and pests, whose impacts are aggravated by deteriorating resistance of bee colonies and impacts of globalization that allows for the transfer of pests over long distances.”
Why Slovenia? On the sunny southern side of the Alps, Slovenia is rich in natural resources with a long and rich history of beekeeping. It is known for its unique beekeeping method, wide varieties of honey, but mostly for its indigenous honey bee, the Carniolan bee, which is protected.
Why May 20? May 20 is the birthday of Anton Jansa, appointed by the Hapsburg Empress Maria Theresa in 1753 as teacher at the first beekeeping school in Vienna. May 20 in the northern hemisphere marks the full development and reproduction (swarming) of bee colonies; in the southern hemisphere it is autumn when bee products are harvested and the days of honey begin.
Why do we need World Bee Day? The original proposal says it best: “…Contribute significantly to international cooperation in tackling global challenges in terms of global food security, eradication of hunger and malnutrition and preserving the environment from further losses in biodiversity and degradation of ecosystem services.”
So, while challenges and issues for communities around the world differ vastly in their intensity and immediacy, the unanimous support for World Bee Day is an indication of how essential, how integral bees are to the future of our planet. And while the Republic of Slovenia’s proposal was largely focused on the importance of the managed honey bee and our food systems, the importance of the other 20,000 bee species, many of which are currently at risk, cannot be overstated.
Consider celebrating all 20,000 bee species on May 20, 2018, and every year. Consider dedicating May 20 to furthering the good work of the Republic of Slovenia.
In the words of Slovenia’s Deputy Prime Minister: “We have a moral obligation to ensure our future generations have a clean and healthy environment and diverse, nutrient-rich foods, for which bees and other pollinators play a vital role….Let World Bee Day unite us and bring the world together.”
Bee City USA®, a national nonprofit organization founded in 2012 to make America’s landscaping paradigm more PC (“pollinator conscious”), has reached a major milestone. They have just certified their 100th affiliate--Salisbury, Maryland!
At the highest levels, certified cities and institutions of higher education have committed to reviewing their landscape design and maintenance plans with pollinators in mind. But their commitment extends well beyond simply reviewing those plans.
Whether a Bee City USA or a Bee Campus USA affiliate, they have agreed to develop and publish a recommended species list of plants, trees and shrubs that are locally native species, rather than the exotic plants that tend to dominate American landscapes. They also have agreed to develop and publish a least toxic Integrated Pest Management plan that instructs city and campus landscaping maintenance staff to seek biological controls for managing pests, using chemical inputs only as a last resort. According to Bee City USA founder and director, Phyllis Stiles, “The goal is to allow nature to find balance between predatory and prey insects. While dogs don’t eat dogs, bugs do eat bugs when given the chance!”
These plant lists and pest management plans should be integrated into certified city and campus comprehensive plans, in order to become policy. The goal is for the cities and campuses to provide demonstration sites of pollinator-friendly landscaping for their communities, to inspire the public at large to adopt these same landscaping principles, all directed at reversing national and global pollinator declines.
Salisbury, Maryland, Mayor Jacob Day, said, “We feel like we’ve won the lottery! Not only are we excited to embark on this new campaign to welcome vital pollinators to Salisbury, we were lucky enough to be the 100th affiliate to be certified. We’re really buzzing now!”
Each affiliate is required to have a committee, endorsed by the city or campus leadership, to serve as pollinator advocates. Ann Barklow, Horticulturist and GreenHouse Grower for the City of Greenwood, and chair of Greenwood, South Carolina’s committee, said, “Bee City USA certification has given us a structure for organizing a broad cross-section of community members, educators, and businesses interested in supporting pollinator conservation. The Bee City USA designation has lit Greenwood on fire about pollinators. I’ve never see the community embrace a program as warmly as this.”
Danielle Trevino, Environmental Protection Specialist at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said, “We were the first military installation to become a Bee City USA affiliate. We are especially proud of our 100-acre restored prairie, teeming with native wildflowers and their pollinators on the site where the Wright Brothers tested flight in 1904. We are hoping more military bases will apply for Bee City USA certification.”
Educational campus affiliates are required to incorporate pollinator conservation into their service-learning programs and curriculum, and place interpretive signs around their campus to explain the role pollinators play in sustaining life on Earth and providing some of the most nutritious foods in our diets.
Mike Oxendine, Landscape Supervisor at Southern Oregon University said, “We approached Bee City USA about launching a campus program in 2015 because there were several certified Bee City USA affiliates around us (Talent, Ashland and Phoenix). We recognized the urgency for pollinator conservation and the opportunity a Bee Campus USA program would offer for engaging not only thousands of college students, faculty, staff and administrators in pollinator conservation, but also visitors to our campuses. We are thrilled to have helped in designing the program and becoming the first certified Bee Campus USA affiliate in the nation.”
The program focuses on hope for our environment and respects and celebrates volunteers. That message resonates outside our borders. In 2016, Bee City USA helped to launch Bee City Canada! Shelly Candel, now director of Bee City Canada, happened to have a second home in Ashland, Oregon, where she met with local pollinator conservation leaders in a tea shop to talk about Bee City USA. She learned how the program worked from Dolly Warden, chair of Talent's Bee City committee and Kristina Lefever, chair of Ashland's Bee City committee.
Talent was the second city after Asheville, North Carolina, to be certified in the nation. "Shelly was so fascinated by what we were doing in Oregon that she contacted Bee City USA headquarters and got busy introducing the program in Toronto, which happened to be her home and Canada's largest city," said Dolly.
In Cortland, New York, SUNY-Cortland has held numerous awareness events since the campus was certified in 2016. Said Bee Campus USA committee member Jeremy Zhe-Heimerman, Assistant Director of Disability Resources Office, “SUNY Cortland has held several events to educate the campus and the larger community about pollinator health and habitat. These events have included a native plant fair, a workshop on caterpillar gardening, a lecture on the use of native plants on a college campus, a talk on milkweed pollination, and several events highlighting our model urban garden, which includes many native perennials in addition to annual vegetables.”
Inspiring annual reports for 2017 from certified cities and campuses are available here.
To apply for certification, visit Bee City USA's application webpage or Bee Campus USA's application webpage.
By Phyllis Stiles, with editorial support from Sam Droege and Mace Vaughn
It's just human nature to want to be first, and you can! You can be the first in your area to record a monarch returning from her overwintering refuge, or the first to record a hummingbird returning from her winter jaunt to Central America. The Journey North site lets you easily record Nature's firsts each spring.
But have you thought about posting your first bumble bee sighting in 2018? You can at Bumble Bee Watch.
Spring means bumble bee queens are emerging after their winter hibernation. They are mated and ready to start their colonies. Unlike honey bee queens attended by worker bees through the winter, a queen bumble bee survived the winter all alone, and now it's up to her to start a new colony and continue her species. Other than honey bees, bumble bees are the most well known social bees in the temperate world. They live in small colonies where the worker bees tend to the colony’s need for food, cleaning, and caring for baby bees. Most of the other nearly 20,000 species of bees around the world live solitary lives.
In the spring, a bumble bee queen is looking for a suitable nesting site in an undisturbed area, possibly under a clump of native grass or in an abandoned rodent burrow. She wants a place that is dry, in a private, sunny spot, and away from people or other critters that might accidentally step on her nest or intentionally try to eat her protein-rich cache of larvae. Frequently, she looks for nests along tree lines or old stone walls.
In the United States, we have about 48 native species of bumble bees. In parts of Great Britain, the bumble bee is also called the humble bee or dumbledor (like Harry Potter’s most powerful wizard of the world). Because bumble bees are larger and slower than most other bee species, even novice “entomologists” have a pretty good chance of determining their species with the aid of pictures. Their “bumbling” makes them easy to capture in small glass jars or gallon plastic bags long enough to identify them.
There are a few simple clues for bumble bee identification: their overall size; the color and number of yellow, orange or white bands on their abdomen; and the coloration on their fuzzy backs (thoraxes). According to Sam Droege, a leading bee taxonomist at the US Geological Survey, “Within a species, size may vary a lot, and males may look different than workers of the same species. But you still have a pretty good chance of identifying a bumble bee with the help of picture guides for your part of the country.”
Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide is an excellent field guide available to purchase online and in print. The US Forest Service has free downloadable posters. They also have the 122-page Bumble Bees of the Western United States Guide and Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States Guide.
If you’re worried about stings, don’t be. When bumble bees are out foraging around flowers for food, not defending their nests, they are very gentle. No male bees even have stingers. In fact, in the fall, when bumble bee colonies produce males, they may be found taking a snooze in a flower early in the morning while they await their lady love!
Report your bumble bee sightings to Bumble Bee Watch where you can upload photos, start a virtual bumble bee collection, have your identifications verified by experts, and interact with other citizen scientists. They even have an IPhone and IPad app to download. If you hurry, you may be the first to report a bumble in your area this spring!
Artist Jim Thompson had no idea that befriending his neighbor, Dolly Warden, in 2015, would soon lead him to building 16" x 16" honeybees.
Dolly is the passionate bee advocate who spearheaded the certification of Talent, Oregon, the nation’s second Bee City USA affiliate. As her community can attest, her love of bees is contagious. Jim serves on Talent’s Bee City USA committee and is very active in enhancing pollinator habitat.
Says Jim after launching into his second large bee project, “Through extensive online research on bee anatomy I've discovered lots more interesting and common features of honeybees. Things like finer compound eyes, different hair characteristics and hair distribution over a bee's body, wax extrusion glands on the underside of the abdomen, different color tones and markings, wing tints and vein patterns, variable mouth and leg parts, etc.”
Rather than being easier, the second giant honeybee turned out to be more challenging for Jim than his first because the more he learns about these ever fascinating creatures, the more accurate he wants his models to be. He even attached the bee’s hairs almost one at a time, a torturous, time-consuming and tedious endeavor requiring extraordinary patience and a very steady hand.
Jim said, “I'm finding through necessity how subtle differences from bee to bee are more common that many of us realize. Perhaps this could be compared to genetic traits in us, slight differences in our facial features, body types, height, body mass, skin colors. There is apparently no such thing as a generic insect or human or anything. Where to draw the lines of detail on a specific bee species is more complex than I originally thought. Aside from what vital roles bees play in our sustainability and quality of life, we can now see that in the insect world there are subtle variations as well as complexities, like in us, or other animals.”
Jim continued, “It's an interesting planet and it takes a lot of work, enthusiasm, passion, insight and science to appreciate the biodiversity we mostly don't see and often take for granted. I hope our species can come to its senses and perhaps save itself, too, by a growing awareness of how vital it is that we pay attention to the busy, unseen world all around us every day.”
Jim’s journey is now connecting him with other insect model makers around the world. Who knew there were insect model makers?
Thanks to Jim and the other artists who help us to better “see” the small creatures that make our planet bloom and fruit. You can see Jim’s bee at Bee-Licious Honey in Portland, Oregon and his online gallery here.
Located at ground central for migrating monarch butterflies, from the grounds department to faculty and students, Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, is committed to welcoming both migrating and resident pollinators. ACU's grounds manager, Gaynelle Rainwater, plans to submit ACU's pollinator gardens for a Green Star Award at the Professional Grounds Management Society next year.
Rendi Hahn, ACU Advancement Campaign Coordinator, wrote this article for the October, 2017, campus magazine.
In an effort to highlight the many on-the-ground conservation efforts that are working around the world, the Smithsonian hosted its first Earth Optimism Summit over Earth Day weekend this year. Now you can virtually experience the Summit from the comfort of your home: they have posted the presentations on line.
Attended by about 2000 people, seven plenaries and 35 “deep dives" featured 237 presenters including a photographer who raised global awareness of the value of the Ross Sea; a conservationist who pushed for protecting lemurs – and then whole parks – in Madagascar; a National Geographic Explorer who protects seascapes; a Smithsonian scientist whose team helped coffee growers grow bird-friendly coffee protecting migratory birds. The Summit also featured conservation artists--performance and visual. Leah Barclay introduced us to the concept of acoustic ecology in the oceans.
Beyond the Summit, 19 Earth Optimism events were held in museums and galleries of the Smithsonian in Washington, New York, Anacostia and Panama City, Panama. In 10 countries around the world – from Colombia to New Zealand – sister organizations hosted 26 events celebrating their own success stories and inspiring hope for the planet.
We thank the the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, and particularly Gary Krupnick, Head of the Plant Conservation Unit in the Department of Botany, for inviting Bee City USA to tell the pollinator conservation story. Phyllis Stiles was the fourth of five speakers in the session, starting at the 41 minute mark.
We hope you feel as inspired and energized by the Summit as we were, and will continue to spread the message of Earth Optimism focused on real solutions to create positive change for people and the planet.
This spring, Bee City USA piloted its first Certified Pollinator Advocate Course for volunteers leading pollinator conservation efforts for Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates in North Carolina. By the end of the residential four-day course, 23 advocates were certified representing ten afiliates.
Dr. Nancy Adamson of the Xerces Society and Environmental Educator Kim Bailey, joined Bee City USA director Phyllis Stiles as the lead faculty. The experiential curriculum covered everything from using stories, art and event tabling to introduce the public to pollinators, to the ecosystem services pollinators provide and why they are imperiled, the role of citizen science in pollinator conservation, the basics of healthy pollinator habitat, pesticides and pollinators, to managing a Bee City USA or Bee Campus USA affiliate with the help of volunteers.
This course would not have been possible without a grant from the Duke Energy Foundation. We were especially happy to have Duke Energy Natural Resources Manager Scott Fletcher share the many ways that Duke Energy is enhancing habitat for pollinators under utility lines.
Students act out an exercise for teaching kids about the honey bee colony's division of labor. Starting from the left, Jonathan Marchal is the drone, just hanging out with guys; while Pam Hay is the queen bee holding a carton of eggs; Sarah Meadows is a maid bee cleaning up with a feather duster; Steve Smith is a nurse bee taking care of the brood; Patrick Dwyer is a construction bee, building wax comb; Libbie Dobbs is a forager bee, collecting nectar and pollen; and Christine Brown is working hard but her role is not visible is the photo!
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.
Header photo by: Nancy Lee Adamson
These are the opinions and events of interest to the Bee City USA director and board.