Most Bee City USA affiliates regularly table at events, especially farmers’ markets. These smiling volunteers (“pollenteers”) stand ready to share literature, collect emails for newsletter lists, and answer questions about Bee City, pollinators, and more.
At Bee City USA, we hope this blog helps you better prepare volunteers to be pollinator advocates at events.
Although we’re sure many of you already have some great tabling tricks up your sleeves, coaxing people into a conversation can sometimes pose a challenge. Perhaps you’re new to tabling, or are trying to brainstorm a solution to a tricky scenario, or are simply looking for fresh ideas. Wherever you are in your tabling journey, here are some tips to help make your next event your most productive yet!
Setting the Table
Your table could have a plate or basket filled with colorful foods reliant on pollinators, contrasted with a bland-looking plate or basket filled with a variety of wind-pollinated grains. A lovely vase of diverse, native flowers is always a nice touch—as well as a recommended regional plant list to share with visitors. You can also demonstrate the amazing diversity of the world’s 20,000 bee species with laminated posters. Volunteers could provide a scavenger hunt for children to track down food and other products pollinated by an animal. (Instructions and supplies for a scavenger hunt, as well as artwork for posters for farmers markets, are available here.)
Messages That Bring People to Your Table
What should volunteers say to entice the waves of passers-by to their booth? Here are some simple messages that have worked for us in Asheville, North Carolina, home of the first Bee City USA.
Educating Children Quickly
Once you’ve successfully piqued a child’s interest, what can you say so they leave knowing a little more about pollinators? Here are some ideas:
Engaging New Volunteers & Supporters
Some visitors of all ages really want to talk; what should the volunteers do? Here are some ideas:
The best reward is when somebody comes to your table to tell you that talking with you before has stuck with them! Maybe they planted native plants because they visited your table last year, or attended one of your events and stopped using pesticides as a result. Regardless, by tabling, you are doing the work necessary to encourage individuals to do what they can to conserve pollinators. Thank you!
An initiative of the Xerces Society, Bee City USA's conservation work is powered by our donors. Your tax deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.
Trying to get a handle on the status of monarch butterflies can be very confusing when comparing eastern and western monarchs. Generally speaking, monarchs east of the Rockies overwinter in special mountain reserves in Mexico, while monarchs west of the Rockies overwinter on the California coast.
We continue to celebrate the monarch numbers from Mexico this year. The acreage that monarchs occupied in Mexico this past winter was much higher than in recent years. This is good news and gives monarchs a fighting chance at recovery. That said, monarchs are not out of the woods yet and we need many more strong years for real recovery. Why should we be cautious and not cry victory yet?
The area monarchs occupy in Mexico is still 66% lower than it was in 1997. In terms of weather, 2018 was a great year for monarchs. A great spring meant that breeding in Texas went well, good weather in the upper Midwest and Northeast in the summer meant that the larger numbers of monarchs from Texas had good breeding success and there was good weather for migration back to Mexico. Last, we had a good weather year in Mexico with no large winter storms. We need more years where the weather is not perfect to see if the population is indeed recovering.
The story in the west is even more dire. The western monarch population saw its worst year ever. It has declined by over 99% since the 1980’s.
Although there is more work to do, the good news is everyone can help! Whether you live in town or own a farm, manage a small yard or a large natural area you can help monarchs.
Remember, monarchs are insects and insecticides kill them. Monarchs need milkweed to feed on as larvae, so plant native milkweed that is free of insecticides. Luckily, there are numerous milkweed finder resources including Xerces' Milkweed Seed Finder, Monarch Watch Milkweed Market, and the Monarch Watch Milkweed Market Vendors. Milkweed is great baby food, but don't forget to plant lots of flowers with ample nectar for adult monarchs too.
To learn more, visit Xerces' Monarch Conservation page.
By Celeste Ets-Hokin
Have you been wondering about the best flowering plants to include in your bee-friendly garden and the different kinds of bees that each plant might attract? Now there’s an app for that! Get to know North America’s native bees and the plants they love – check out the new Wild Bee ID website and app by Celeste Ets-Hokin and Center for Food Safety. Read the blog below to learn more about our native bees and the story of Wild Bee ID!
What are native bees and why should we care about them?
As many of you Bee City USA blog readers may know, North America is home to roughly 4000 species of native bees, the premiere pollinators that are essential to the survival of at least three quarters of our region’s flowering plants. You may also be aware that the familiar and iconic honey bee (Apis mellifera), is not one of these bees! Honey bees, valued for their wax and honey, were brought to North America by European settlers in the 1600’s. Honey bees have since become integral to modern industrial agriculture.
But it is our V.I.P. (Very Important Pollinators!) native bees that ensure the healthy reproduction of the trees, shrubs and wildflowers that anchor America's terrestrial ecosystems. Without native bees, these flowering plants would eventually disappear, and along with them the countless species of animals – from tiny birds to giant grizzly bears – that depend upon the plants for food and shelter. But as our natural and semi-natural areas have been steadily diminished by industrial farming and suburban development, native bee populations across North America have suffered alarming declines over the past several decades. The loss of habitat, coupled with pesticide poisoning, have already driven a number of species to extinction, and many others are threatened with a similar fate.
The good news is that we, as individuals from coast to coast, can offer many of our native bee species valuable habitat in our own backyards and community gardens. These adaptive pollinators are always on the lookout for urban and suburban real estate, and when you build it, they will come!
Use Wild Bee ID to throw the best garden party in town for native bees!
You might well be wondering: Just how do we throw the best garden parties in town for our native bees, and which of these diversely and often brilliantly attired guests are likely to accept our invitation? So glad you asked, because now there’s an app for that!
The newly released “Wild Bee ID” is not only a mobile app, available on both iOS and Android platforms, but is also a website - wildbeeid.org. With over 300 high resolution images of native bees and plants, Wild Bee ID is both a visually stunning and practical tool for the conservation of our native bees. This unique resource, that features electronic links between our commonly encountered North American native bees and the flowers they visit, is now free!
While not intended as an identification guide for individual bee species, Wild Bee ID rather provides you with an understanding and appreciation for the dazzling diversity of North American native bees; the tools to easily create habitat for them in our urban and suburban gardens; and tips on how to recognize these brilliant pollinators. In addition to detailed native bee and plant profile pages, the app includes an extensive narrative section presented as a set of guides, which introduces you to the essential world of native bees. The guides will help you learn to distinguish males from females, bees from flies and wasps; understand North American native bee ecology and taxonomy; and much more! All of the guides are illustrated with spectacular images of live native bees and their habitat, making WBID an excellent educational tool for students of all ages.
A tip of the App!
So how can you use Wild Bee ID to host the best garden party in town for our native bees and to recognize some of your V.I.P. guests? Here are a few tips from the app:
Tip #1: Celebrate Diversity! In order to attract a broad spectrum of native bee visitors to your bee-friendly garden, choose flowers with different sizes, shapes, and colors that will bloom in succession from spring through fall. Short-tongued bees are typically restricted to collecting pollen and nectar from open platform, composite flowers, while long-tongued bees will often seek the deep nectar rewards of tubular blossoms.
Tip #2: Go Native! One way to ensure that you are selecting plants that offer local pollinators a good source of pollen and nectar is to choose a variety of native plants for your garden. Studies have shown that native plants are at least four times more attractive than exotics to the native bees in a given region.
Tip #3: Avoid mulch madness! Did you know that 70% of our native bees are ground-nesters? These bees need access to bare, undisturbed ground. Try to leave areas of your yard free from a thick layer of mulch, as this prevents our ground nesting bees from excavating their nests. Once established, native plants shouldn’t need a thick layer of mulch, and areas where annual wildflower seeds are sown won’t usually present a barrier to ground-nesting bees. They will often find space to nest near the base of these plants.
Tip #4: ID your guests! A good way to know who’s coming to your garden party is to pay attention to the season in which they appear and the flowers they choose to visit. The emergence of native bees is often timed to their favorite floral resources. For example, mason bees (Osmia) emerge when orchard fruit blossoms appear in the spring. So when you see that shiny blue bee on your apple blossom, you’ll know it’s a mason bee.
Or when you see one of your summer visitors wearing thick, elegant leg-warmers to your garden party, and enhancing this pollen-heavy attire each time she drops into a Cosmos, Helenium, Coreopsis, Gaillardia or sunflower, you can be pretty sure it’s a long-horned (Melissodes) female bee. And just where might the male long-horned bees be during all this industrious pollen-gathering on the part of the females? If they aren’t out chasing the females or drinking nectar from many of the same flowers, then you will often see them sleeping together in these flowers in the afternoon!
Some of our most colorful VIP guests should be issued frequent “flyer” passes, because, as multi-generational bee species, they can often be seen in our gardens from spring through fall. Who hasn’t enjoyed the first visits to our spring gardens by those elegant, fur-coated bumble bees, and observed that they’re some of the last guests to leave the garden party in fall? And it’s hard to take your eyes off of our brilliantly attired, phosphorescent green sweat bees, as they make their dramatic entrance in late spring, and don’t leave the party till summer’s end.
While you’re circulating among the colorful guests in your garden, you might be wondering which ones are males, and which are females? The WBID Guides can help you distinguish males from females (hint: it often comes down to bee-havior!) and bees from flies and wasps; and easily help you understand the various characteristics and relationships of our North American bees.
We hope then that you’ll download the app and provide us with your feedback or questions. In fact we’ve created an email account, exclusively for this purpose: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or just tell us about the best WBID plants where you live, and the native bee visitors they attract. If you send us app-quality native bee and plant photos, we’ll choose the best ones and add them to WBID. So let’s all get out in our backyard and community gardens this bee season and meet our colorful guests!
Get the free Wild Bee ID app today!
How did the Wild Bee ID author, Celeste Ets-Hokin, become native bee-dazzled?
As the creator of the Wild Bee ID content (formerly known as the Wild Bee Gardens app for iPad and iPhone), I’ll give you just a small glimpse into how this app came to bee:
As a Zoology graduate from U.C. Berkeley, I had an opportunity in 2008 to return to the field of environmental science. I had become alarmed by the reports of honey bee declines due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and how agricultural conditions across the country were contributing to this problem. So I completed two internships that year, one with the Environmental Working Group and one with Pesticide Action Network (PAN), hoping to eventually work on sustainable land use and pollinator conservation.
Towards the end of 2008, while working for PAN, I caught an article in Audubon magazine about UC Berkeley professor Claire Kremen’s work on native bees in agricultural landscapes. Since I had no prior awareness of native bees, this became a seminal moment for me—it focused my appreciation for the need to grow food and use land in a way that also provides forage and nesting habitat for pollinators. I wanted to help make this connection for others, and what better place to start than in my own backyard! And so I embarked on a journey of discovery through the fascinating world of native bees.
I happened to be at the right place and the right time to begin my education, as both Professor Claire Kremen and Professor Gordon Frankie, urban bee specialist, were right next door at UC Berkeley. And Professor Gretchen LeBuhn, founder of the Great Sunflower Project, was conducting her research across the bridge at San Francisco State University. Through Claire I learned about the Xerces Society, whose publications provided an invaluable education, and with whom I eventually collaborated on several projects.
Beginning then in 2009, I pursued a number of strategies to promote awareness about North America’s native bees, their vital role in our ecosystems, and the necessary measures to ensure their conservation. To support the work of The Great Sunflower Project and the Xerces Society, I created three consecutive North American native bee calendars, which were sold as a fundraiser for these conservation organizations. The calendar concept, which raised awareness about North America’s native bees and the flowers they visit, ultimately formed the foundation for the “Wild Bee Gardens” app.
In 2009, I also initiated a collaborative effort with the Alameda County Master Gardeners to establish a native bee demonstration garden located at The Gardens at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. I approached Sam Foushee, the lead Master Gardener, and asked him if a portion of their trials garden area could be dedicated to a demonstration bee garden. He responded by saying, “Great idea, you’re in charge!” And so began a BEE-UTIFUL partnership.
Dr. Gordon Frankie’s experimental bee garden at UC Berkeley informed my plant selections at the Lake Merritt site. This bee garden is still blooming, buzzing, and attracting many human as well as native bee visitors! In fact it was in the Lake Merritt bee garden that I met a young couple who just happened to be wandering through one afternoon in 2012, and who ultimately became my app partners.
The couple fell in love with both the garden and the native bee calendars, and wanted to help me reach a wider audience. As luck would have it, he was an app developer for Apple platforms who was looking for a side project. He and his wife then helped me create an electronic, highly expanded version of the hard copy calendars, which was launched as the iPad app, “Wild Bee Gardens”, in 2014.
As I was responsible for writing all of the app content, I consulted with numerous UC professors during this nine month process, including Dr. Gordon Frankie, Dr. Claire Kremen and Dr. Robbin Thorp, Professor Emeritus at the UC Davis Department of Entomology. Dr. Thorp graciously reviewed the app in its entirety for scientific accuracy, and has since provided countless species identifications for our bee images and those submitted by the app user community.
In 2017, I transferred ownership of the app to the Center for Food Safety, an organization with which I had collaborated on several pollinator conservation projects. While its development took some time, CFS released the free version of my app, “Wild Bee ID” several weeks ago. All of the scientific content, spectacular photographs and basic navigation of the original app were retained in the new version, and now we want to let gardeners from coast to coast know about this accessible, free, and highly informative resource. Our goal is to put this unique conservation tool in the hands of more users, and make some real strides towards protecting our premiere native pollinators, one garden at a time!
Get the free Wild Bee ID app today!
Decatur, Georgia, makes sure to keep it fun! Their theme for the Mardi Gras Parade was "Laissez Les Bee-Temps Rouler!" Their 12 costumed marchers pulled two bee-themed floats and passed out more than 500 pieces of literature that both announced their upcoming National Pollinator Week celebration as well as provided a list of bee-friendly yard practices and plants. At the judge’s reviewing stand, Beecatur presented a brief skit about the deadly effects of residential mosquito spraying on pollinators. They even took home the prize for “Best Costumes."
Who likes writing annual reports? Honestly? Probably very few of us. But here's the rub. If you do some wonderful things, but nobody documents them, did they really ever happen? Okay, so maybe the people directly involved will remember some of them, for a year or two, but no one will remember all of them.
Ever stumbled on an old college paper you wrote when you were cleaning out a closet and been astounded at how smart you sounded? What if you hadn't found that paper; would you remember that you once knew a fair amount about some obscure topic? I certainly wouldn't—and didn't when that happened to me.
Bee City USA & Bee Campus USA Annual Renewal Reports Are Treasure Troves
The fact is, we are receiving information at hyperspeeds these days, and were it not for their annual renewal reports, the pollinator conservation work Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates are doing might be forgotten. We so appreciate the effort it takes for affiliates to share that information with us each year for numerous reasons. As national program managers, we learn how affiliates are engaging their communities in conserving pollinators, and often discover great ideas that other affiliates could replicate. Take the seed collection and giveaway programs that Portland State University and UNC Asheville do. And how about the pollinator garden certification and annual guided tour programs in Ashland and Talent, Oregon? Seattle, Washington's committee is a broad-based coalition of city department representatives and nonprofits that enhances habitat under utility lines, at the airport, in volunteer-managed patches; and works with the University of Washington and Washington State University to monitor how their habitat augmentation is impacting bee diversity. South Dakota State University, Mineral Area College in Missouri, and Greenwood, South Carolina, grow their own native plants for their pollinator gardens. Morehead State University in Kentucky teaches students to identify pollen in honey.
The Hillsborough, North Carolina, Tree Board also serves as the Bee City USA committee. They teamed up with the garden club and the City of Hillsborough to establish numerous pollinator gardens, promote gardening with native plants, and write and publish monthly articles about gardening for pollinators.
Annual reports are helping us assemble best practices and guide Bee City USA's resource and educational efforts, but they are also providing institutional memory for affiliates. It's easy to get caught up in planting pollinator gardens and hosting events, and not documenting any of that work. In Asheville, where Bee City USA started, our AmeriCorps member established a fantastic pollinator garden at a city park several years ago and continued to maintain it for three years after she left the AmeriCorps position. If she hadn't contacted me a few days ago to ask if I could locate a replacement volunteer to maintain it, I might have forgotten it entirely.
Now that Bee City USA is seven years old, affiliate staff and volunteers are experiencing turnovers for all of the reasons you'd expect—relocation, new jobs, retirement, illness. And their replacements are asking us to educate them on what was done in the past. When they do, we share all of the annual reports we have. Most affiliates proudly post their annual reports on their own Bee City or Bee Campus web pages and share the reports with their volunteers and communities to remind them of everything they accomplished together the previous year.
Need a Little Lift?
Many of the reports on 2018 are already published on our website. Soon, we should have all reports for last year's accomplishments published. You can read Bee City reports here and Bee Campus reports here.
Whenever you need a little lift, we hope you will take a few moments to read some of the reports. Despite the busy lives we all lead, people across America are finding the time, mostly as volunteers, to welcome pollinating bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, beetles, wasps, bats, and flies into their yards, traffic islands, parks, school yards, church parking lots, businesses and roadsides. They are telling their neighbors how they can integrate native plants into their landscaping and reduce herbicide, insecticide and fungicide use and say hello to the magical creatures that enable nearly ninety percent of the world's flowering plant species to reproduce. (Glorious blossoms and fruits aren't so bad either.)
By Phyllis Stiles, Pollinator Champion & Founder of Bee City USA (2012), an initiative of the Xerces Society since 2018
Passover, Easter, Earth Day, honey bee swarm season, World Bee Day, preparation for National Pollinator Week in June, and more! What's NOT happening in spring?
Every time I look out my window or walk outside, I can barely contain myself. The planet seems to be shedding its winter clothes and loudly inhaling and exhaling to ooze millions of shades of lush green colors. One day nothing seems to be happening with one of our flame azaleas, and the next day it's awash in glorious blossoms. If it makes me feel almost drunk and giddy, what must the pollinators be feeling?
How about America's 40+ species of fuzzy bumble bees? Mated bumble queens hid away all winter and are now building up their few hundred-strong colonies of worker bees. You can report your sightings to Bumble Bee Watch, a community science project that is working to broaden our understanding of bumble bee distribution and will inform future conservation efforts.
Have your mason bees been checking out of your bee hotels? Are those newly emerged mason mothers now provisioning tunnel cells for offspring they will never see?
Have you seen any monarch butterflies or hummingbirds migrating northward? You can report your sightings at Journey North and witness the migration progressing up the continent.
How about the ground nesting mining or digger bees? Seventy per cent of the world's 20,000 bee species nest in the ground! Following Portland, Oregon's Sabin Elementary "tickle bees" has become a Xerces tradition.
Bees and other pollinators make great neighbors, even in urban areas! Positive stories of pollinator species returning after decades-long absences let us know that if we provide habitat, there's hope that they will return. The silver digger bees' return to San Francisco's Presidio was a recent one. In an interesting twist, the Presidio is actually the last known habitat of the Xerces blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces), for which the Xerces Society is named. Although it’s too late for the Xerces blue, we are pleased to hear that the Presidio’s habitat is recovering enough to support more pollinators!
As I have fallen in love with ever-fascinating and diverse pollinators this past decade, the year is increasingly measured by the arrival of the pollinator of the season. This spring, I fully intend to witness my first busy leafcutter bee trimming off a leaf medallion to wallpaper her nursery! What's your pollinator-watching goal for 2019?
By Phyllis Stiles, Pollinator Champion & Founder of Bee City USA (2012). Bee City USA has been an initiative of the Xerces Society since 2018
Bee City USA is an initiative of the Xerces Society and Xerces’ conservation work
is powered by our donors. Your tax deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.
As the days grow brighter and the grass greener, most of us experience some measure of spring fever. Here are five things Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates can do to take advantage of that primal urge to grab a shovel!
1. Tell your community that urban and suburban landscapes matter.
The National Pollinator Garden Network (with which Bee City USA and the Xerces Society are partners) announced vastly exceeding the goal of one million pollinator gardens on February 27. In the announcement, they referenced a growing body of research showing significant impact from small scale gardens. While honey bees usually fly in about a three-mile radius from their hives, some native bees have very small home ranges and may fly as little as 500 feet from where they emerge as adults. Therefore, they need a succession of flowers nearby throughout the growing season. Bee taxonomist for the US Geological Survey and coauthor of Bees: An Up-Close Look at Pollinators Around the World, Sam Droege said, “A little goes a long way. Homeowners should think of their gardens as restitution. Most American gardens have access to a hundred species of bees. Indeed, Prince George’s County, Maryland, hosts 260 bee species in contrast to the entire United Kingdom which hosts only 250 bee species. In some cases, when we plant a diversity of native plants, we can attract even more pollinator species than may have been there before.”
2. Promote the recommended native wildflower and tree species list that Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates commit to create and disseminate.
Pollinators co-evolved over thousands to millions of years with native plants for their mutual benefit. By planting exotic trees, shrubs, and plants that are often unrecognizable or unpalatable as food to many native pollinators, we have degraded pollinators’ food sources. Making your community more pollinator-friendly starts with incorporating a diversity of native flowering plants. Many trees, shrubs and grasses that don’t even flower act as larval hosts for hungry butterfly and moth caterpillars. Others offer nectar—a pollinator’s carbohydrate—for native bees, moths, beetles, flies, butterflies, and hummingbirds, and their pollen provides bees with essential protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
3. Promote growers and retailers that sell native plants.
Pollinator advocates can ardently encourage the public to plant natives, but if those plants are not available for purchase, the public can’t plant them. Nurseries are businesses, and businesses need customers to buy their products or services. Since the nurseries that supply native plants are often very small, their tolerance for risk is smaller than larger businesses. If they’re selling trees and shrubs, they have to plan several years ahead before the tree or shrub matures enough to sell. Likewise, if they sell perennials, they don’t want to have to overwinter them if they don’t sell. If you want to be able to find native plants, it’s important to support those local nurseries and retailers. Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates can promote nursery openings and spring plant sales, and highlight the pollinators to be supported by certain native plants. Guest editorials, letters to the editor, news stories, E-newsletters, emails, and social media posts can bring the customers those growers and retailers need to survive. The more people ask for particular native plants, the greater the chance the growers will propagate them for the next season. We also recommend using the Xerces Society’s Milkweed Seed Finder and Pollinator Conservation Resource Center to locate, support, and celebrate vendors near you!
4. Host and promote planting and habitat enhancement events.
Today, four out of five people live in urban areas. While individual yards may seem too small to help imperiled pollinators, a University of Chicago study showed that 4493 small gardens in Chicago totaled 51 acres. They also found the highest pollinator visitation in the neighborhoods with the highest human density. (Lowenstein, et al, 2014). Just because a plant species will grow in a certain planting zone doesn’t mean it should be planted where it’s not native. Even though flower generalists like honey bees and bumble bees can forage non-native invasive species like kudzu and privet, we urge you to remove them whenever possible to make room for the natives. You can also help native pollinators by planting fruit trees; herbs like mint, oregano, parsley, and lavender; or flowering annuals like old-fashioned cosmos, zinnias and single sunflowers. A diversity of plants attracts a diversity of pollinators, and supports biodiversity generally.
5. Take the mullet approach!
If your neighborhood has rigid landscaping rules, make it business in the front and party in the back! Mulch areas of the front yard neatly to provide habitat for ground nesters, and go more natural in your side and back yards. Use the “edge effect” around beds or natural areas to give the appearance of tidiness and integrate an attractive sign in your yard to let your neighbors know your landscaping may look a little different because you are inviting pollinators.
In short, if we take care of the pollinators, they will take care of us. Happy gardening!
Author’s Note: Sam Droege is a member of Bee City USA’s Science Advisory Board.
Xerces’ conservation work is powered by our donors.
Your tax-deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.
Most of us picture blooming meadows when we think of pollinator habitat. While wildflowers are essential for supplying nectar and pollen, a small bee must expend enormous energy to fly to flowers strewn across a landscape. In contrast, a single blooming tree offers a flower feast. To highlight this point, the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign’s annual poster for 2016 was “Trees for Bees.”
Bee Culture Magazine recently ran an article about the importance of hedgerows and trees—still an agricultural norm as late as the early 1900s—for providing pollinator forage, as well as nesting and overwintering habitat. The Xerces Society wrote this article about the benefits of hedgerows in farm landscapes in 2016.
“The advent of industrial agriculture after World War II radically changed the landscape,” said Dave Goulson, founder of the UK’s Bumblebee Conservation Trust and author of A Sting in the Tale. “Flower-filled hayfields were replaced by green, flowerless silage fields, traditional crop rotations were largely abandoned, and small fields bounded by hedgerows were merged into massive mono-cropped fields that rely on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Around the globe, industrial agriculture has eliminated once abundant habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects.”
The Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program was launched in 1976 to raise awareness of the importance of urban tree canopies and create local systems for maintaining them. During its formation in 2011, Bee City USA drew inspiration from Tree City USA, reasoning that if the Tree City USA program could help urban and suburban areas institutionalize efforts to enhance urban tree canopies, the same organizing principles could be applied to reversing pollinator declines in those areas.
The consequences of declining tree populations are legion, including profound ramifications for pollinators. As important as tree and shrub flowers are for feeding bees and other pollinators, even wind-pollinated and non-flowering trees and shrubs frequently serve as caterpillar host plants and nesting sites for the world’s 17,500+ butterfly and 160,000+ moth species. Entomologist Dr. Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, said, “Native oaks alone support more than 500 species of butterflies and moths, in contrast to exotic gingko trees from Asia that support virtually no American caterpillars.”
Most people associate trees with birds, but Arbor Day is also an excellent occasion for educating your community about the butterfly and moth caterpillars their tree canopy supports, and the vital role most adult lepidoptera play not only in pollination, but also the role they play during their caterpillar stage in feeding ninety per cent of young land birds. Tallamy said, “A single clutch of chickadees will eat 6000-9000 caterpillars before they leave the nest.” Tallamy collaborated with the National Wildlife Federation to create a Native Plant Finder that links plants in your zip code to the butterfly and moth caterpillars they support.
National Arbor Day is April 26, 2019. There are endless reasons for planting trees, not the least of which are storing carbon and oxygenating the air we breathe. This year, consider celebrating Arbor Day by planting fruit and other trees to offer meadows in the sky for our fuzzy little friends and food for hungry caterpillars. Visit Xerces’ regional plant lists page and Bee City USA’s Create Habitat page for tips on selecting species that are native to your area.
When thinking about planting trees for bees it is also good to think about how managing trees can affect bees, in particular insecticide treatments. A major Bee City USA commitment for certification is administering an informed integrated pest management program. The goal is to prevent pest problems, but when they arise, to address them in a way that least harms pollinators. The now infamous massive bumble bee kill caused by spraying blooming linden trees in a retail parking lot in Wilsonville, Oregon, in 2013 is a sobering reminder of how tree treatments impact pollinators. The silver lining to this incident is that it led to a ban on treating linden trees with several neonicotinoid products in Oregon and spurred new pest management policies and practices in many cities across the nation. Wilsonville even became a Bee City USA affiliate in 2017!
Author’s Note: Douglas Tallamy is a member of Bee City USA’s Science Advisory Board.
If you’re interested in pollinator conservation policy at the local, state, national, or international level, you may want to read a groundbreaking report in Environmental Science and Policy. Dr. Damon Hall is Assistant Professor at the School of Natural Resources in the Department of Biomedical, Biological & Chemical Engineering, at the University of Missouri (affectionately known as Mizzou), a certified Bee Campus USA affiliate since 2016. Hall teamed up with Rebecca Steiner of Saint Louis University to publish, “Insect Pollinator Conservation Policy Innovations: Lessons for Lawmakers.”
Until February 24, 2019, anyone can download the report for free using the author’s link:
The report provides a content analysis of 109 insect pollinator policies passed by U.S. state-level legislatures from 2000 to 2017—notably both before and then after publicity about colony collapse disorder, neonicotinoid insecticides, and highly-visible bee kills. Thirty-six states passed between one and nine laws each that fit into six categories: 1) Laws tightening apicultural management: bees as livestock; 2) Evolving views of bees as beneficial insects: laws to review pesticides; 3) Addressing pollinator declines: task forces on pollinator health; 4) Creating and managing habitats for pollinators; 5) Policy for increasing awareness of insect pollinators; and, 6) Research for insect pollinators.
From a positive perspective, these state level actions often bridge political divides and are predictors of what’s to come at the national and international levels. Moreover, they show lawmakers are increasingly seeing pollinators as beneficial insects which changes how lawmakers address pesticides.
The authors organized the laws into a searchable database, characterizing policy trends and documenting the spectrum of policy innovations. Hall says, “These 109 new laws cover apiculture, pesticides, pollinator awareness, pollinator habitat, and research. Together, they narrate an evolution of bureaucratic thinking on insects.”
Perhaps the most comprehensive habitat protection signed into law (MN HF976, 2013) is Minnesota’s Pollinator Habitat Program, requiring the Commissioner of Agriculture to develop best management practices and habitat restoration guidelines for pollinator habitat enhancement, and report to the agriculture and natural resource legislative committee. The report, developed in collaboration with the Pollution Control Agency, Board of Water and Soil Resources, and representatives of the University of Minnesota, must include proposals for establishing a “pollinator bank” to preserve pollinator species, creating “pollinator nesting and foraging habitat…including establishment of pollinator reserves or refuges,” and "provide criteria to evaluate neonicotinoid pesticides."
As Americans complain that the government is often gridlocked at the national level, Hall says, “I wanted to see the actual points of agreement at state levels around insect pollinator conservation. In so doing, we could argue that these more than 100 policies passed by state legislatures constitute points of consensus worth exploring for national policies and international agreements. After all, sustaining pollinators crosses rural and urban, and left and right, divides.”
Across the country, individuals and communities are realizing how vital it is to sustain pollinators. In honor of the Winter Solstice, a time of reflection, we asked Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates for their favorite pollinator conservation highlight from 2018. Here are some of their responses.
Delta College, University Center, Michigan - Linda A. Petee, Sustainability & Risk Management Coordinator
"Delta College was honored to join Bee Campus USA this year as the first and only Michigan-certified campus! With the support of the campus community, our Pollinator Alliance Team designated a section of our natural area to develop as a bee habitat trail. We’re excited to plan plantings, interpretive signage, student club projects, community-learning activities, and tours."
Talent, Oregon - Dolly Warden, Chair, Bee City USA Talent Committee
"The most gratifying experience Bee City USA Talent had this year occurred on the 5th of December when the Talent City Council unanimously approved the proposed Integrated Pest Management Report and Recommendation. We first began working on the goal of an Integrated Pest Management Policy in March of 2014, so it has been almost five years. Although many people are responsible for the final outcome, it was Jim Thompson's persistence that saw it to the finish."
Garden City, Idaho - Judy Snow, Chair, Bee City USA - Garden City Committee
"The highlight of the year for me was visiting our pollinator garden and observing the hundreds (thousands?) of bees and other pollinators who showed up in only its second year. It was truly amazing to see the bees of all shapes and sizes, butterflies and hummingbirds visiting the flowers. We had leafcutter bees make their home in our bee boxes and observed solitary bee homes in the ground. It has proven to me that....If you build it, they will come!"
San Francisco, California - Peter Brastow, Senior Environmental Specialist, Nature, Ecosystems and Biodiversity, San Francisco Department of Environment
"In light of the ongoing insect apocalypse and the continuing racial and economic inequity in access to nature, we are working to meet both conservation and justice goals by piloting the installation of a local native plant landscape in a workforce development model at affordable housing sites in San Francisco."
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio - Danielle Trevino, Biological Scientist
"My most inspirational moment was from one of our smaller projects…a monarch waystation we planted with the children from the base youth center in the spring. The kids have taken such great care of it and now have a genuine interest the habitat and the many pollinators that call it home. It was such a small thing, but it is a reminder that big changes start with small steps."
Norcross, Georgia - Mike Brose, Sustainable Norcross Committee
"When I received the signed resolution, I was happy to know that the City of Norcross is now beehav’n!"
Carrboro, North Carolina - Laura Janway, Environmental Planner
"As a new member of Carrboro Town staff, I was excited to see the Town and community’s commitment to pollinators through current and future pollinator gardens, installations of native bee nesting boxes, and educational outreach. I am inspired by the dedication from Bee Cities across the country and hope to keep up the momentum in 2019."
Georgia Tech, Atlanta, Georgia - Jennifer Kraft Leavey, Ph.D., Principal Academic Professional, College of Sciences
"My favorite urban pollinator-related moment of the year was getting a call about a "swarm" of bees on an island of grass in the middle of a giant parking lot on the campus of Georgia Tech in downtown Atlanta. When I got there the island was covered in mining bee nests that look like little ant hills. Just above there were a cloud of these precious solitary bees working on creating the next generation of mining bees. By the next week you couldn't even tell they had been there."
Hillsborough , North Carolina - Stephanie Trueblood, Public Space Manager
"My favorite pollinator moment this year was the day when the swallowtail caterpillars showed up on our bronze fennel. I had heard from friends that they had arrived but our plants were empty. My kids and I checked our garden every day for more than a week and then SURPRISE, one morning we found 10 happy fat caterpillars munching away. We were thrilled.:)"
Orland, California - Pete Carr, City Manager
"Our OktoBEEfest drew 200 people and netted $5400 for the Bee city committee to spend on education and outreach. The Glenn County Fair 2018 theme was "What's all the Buzz about?" The city is purchasing real property as the future site of Honeybee Discovery Center."
Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington - Chuck Faulkinberry, Director, Hemmingson Center, GUEST, Auxiliary Enterprises
"This fall we held our now annual harvest and wintering event. We brought in a hand cranked extractor and let each student take a turn that was in attendance. Much like when I was little when we made ice cream on my grandfather’s porch in the summer. Each student was eager to crank and felt some ownership in the extraction. It is a great way to get students involved and everyone walked away with a small honey bear for their efforts."
Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania - Cody Rosenbarker, Sustainability Learning Coordinator
"The Center for Sustainability Education hosted an event where students brought in our native bee homes for the winter. We found mason bees and leaf-cutter bees had used our homes as well as some that we couldn’t identify. Although it seems like the mason bees had already been parasitized, we’re looking forward to putting them all out in the spring and see what comes out to pollinate our gardens!"
Central Community College, Grand Island, Nebraska - Ben Newton, Environmental Sustainability Director
"Organizing our First Annual Pollinator Festival brought in a diverse mix of dedicated insect and native plant fans that I previously did not know existed! We even had a band that were also beekeepers playing at the festival while young children enjoyed honey ice cream. Our first full season of a new pollinator garden on campus was worth all the sweat and pain of pulling sand burrs by staff and students!"
Denton, Texas - Sarah Luxton, Sustainability Coordinator
"It’s exciting to see the younger generations get enthusiastic about pollinators and take action to support them in their community. These young beekeepers and gardens can be an inspiration to us all!
Phoenix, Oregon - Sharon Schmidt, Psy.D., Cascade Girl Organization
"We created a 2,000 square foot mural in Phoenix, Oregon over the course of 36 months. It is across from a popular fast-food restaurant and has little embedded signs that say 'grow organic'. Thousands of visitors look at it daily and it raises people’s awareness of Pollinators and organic produce (inner smile!)."
Albuquerque, New Mexico - Anita Amstutz, Think Like a Bee
"Poet Saeed Jones expressed it well for me, 'It's increasingly difficult for me to vibe with people—even keen, talented people—who are salty about everything all the time. Gotta have some sweetness in this life. I believe in the intelligence of honey.'"
Carson City, Nevada - Gillian Mellor, Chair, Bee City USA - Carson City Committee
"After many happy days collecting nectar and pollen, We have safely tucked our families in their hives for their well deserved rest. Greeting them again in the new year - we are able also to rest."
Pine Lake, Georgia - Elise Witt, Member, Bee City USA - Pine Lake Committee
"I loved having my song, “Bees Make Honey,” sung to celebrate our Bee City certification in Pine Lake!"
Photos: Nancy Lee Adamson/Xerces Society
Are you mesmerized by milkweed fluff? If so, you are not alone!
If you saved your fluff, you may want to have a holiday craft session to turn it into ornaments. Buy inexpensive clear glass Christmas balls from a craft store, and working inside a large paper bag, use your finger or a pencil to stuff a lot, or a little, fluff into the ball before capping it off with the hanger. (We suggest the bag because one friend discovered the cause of her printer problems was fluff that worked its way inside the rollers!)
True fluff ornament connoisseurs insert unopened fluff in the narrow glass ball opening, much like putting a collapsed miniature ship in a bottle, but without popping it open afterward. This showcases the fluff's elegant, silky growth pattern.
After the holidays, you may want to remove any seeds in the ornaments and plant them in time to sprout before the spring monarch migration.
Header photo by: Nancy Lee Adamson
These are the opinions and events of interest to the Bee City USA director and board.