By Phyllis Stiles, Bee City USA Founder & Pollinator Champion, Xerces Society
In honor of the hardworking pollinators that help our most nutritious foods grow and fruit, this Thanksgiving, why not make a vase of flowers the table centerpiece rather than a turkey? To us, flowers represent beauty, celebration, or sympathy in times of grief, but to pollinators, they represent a feast of pollen and nectar.
One in every three bites of food we eat is courtesy of insect pollination. This includes not only tasty things like chocolate, pumpkins and cranberries, but also foods that provide us with a major proportion of essential micronutrients like vitamins A & C, iron, zinc, folate, amino acids and antioxidants. Even the alfalfa and clover that cows eat to produce milk—from which we make cheese, butter and whipped cream—depend on pollinators.
America’s Thanksgiving tradition commemorates a feast in 1621 shared by the Wampanoag Tribe and the Pilgrims. The pilgrims, religious separatists from England, spent a grueling winter off-shore aboard the Mayflower, a venture that claimed the lives of about half of the passengers. Native Americans offered the English colonists much welcomed hospitality.
While the first pollinator to come to mind for most people is the honey bee, it, too, was a European immigrant that arrived on a ship in the 1620s. They soon met their plentiful American pollinator cousins—bumble, mason, squash, leafcutter and mining bees, as well as moths, beetles, hummingbirds, butterflies, bats and flies and thousands of other species. Pollinators travel from flower to flower feeding on or gathering nectar and pollen, and along the way pollinate flowers, enabling plants to make seeds to reproduce. That’s why we have fruits and nuts!
There are about 3,600 species of native wild bees in the United States, but their numbers are declining due to habitat loss, pesticide exposure, poor nutrition, climate change and diseases. Roughly a quarter of North America’s bumble bee species are in decline. Indeed, the previously widespread rusty patched bumble bee was added to the Endangered Species List in 2017.
When we take care of pollinators, we take care of so much more. By planting a diversity of plants that were here long before the colonists, and by avoiding insecticides, fungicides and herbicides, not only do we ensure food supplies for us and wildlife, we also encourage beneficial insects that prey on crop pests. All of the fragrant, colorful flowers aren’t so bad either.
So, as you scoot that cranberry sauce onto your bite of turkey, thank a bumble bee. And when you savor that pumpkin pie, thank a squash bee. If it’s served a la mode, thank a leafcutter bee for pollinating the dairy cow’s alfalfa. If you chase it with a cup of coffee, thank a tropical stingless bee or fly.
Happy Thanksgiving to pollinators and people!
Guest Blog By Shannon M. Westlake, PhD, Mississippi State University
Human Dimensions of Pollinator Conservation
When someone says the buzz phrase “pollinator conservation” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Bees? Butterflies? Beetles? What about humans? The term "human" in this context may have negative connotations relating to habitat destruction or increased chemical use. While humans have contributed to pollinator decline, they also have a very important role to play in pollinator conservation.
While humans have contributed to pollinator decline, they also have a very important role to play in pollinator conservation.
With the majority of the lands in the United States in private ownership, we need landholders and managers to adopt beneficial practices that support pollinators. Increasing involvement requires better understanding of people and how they relate to these beneficial practices. This can be achieved through studying the human dimensions of pollinator conservation.
Researchers investigating the human dimensions of conservation or natural resource management seek to understand how people value wildlife or natural resources, how people believe those resources should be managed, and how people affect or are affected by them and associated management decisions.
Landholder Study of Pollinator Best Management Practices
The majority of native pollinator research efforts have focused on pollinator biology and ecology, rather than the sociology behind how people perceive and value pollinators. With my dissertation research, I aimed to study social aspects by investigating landholder attributes that affect their decisions of whether or not to adopt pollinator best management practices (BMPs), including using cover crops, creating field borders, and using targeted herbicides.
Over 1,400 landholders responded to the survey, with many interested in learning more about pollinator conservation and BMPs. The majority of landholders had adopted at least one pollinator BMP. Most landholders had more favorable than unfavorable attitudes toward the practices and some felt social pressures from others to use them. The primary influence on landholders’ intentions to adopt pollinator BMPs were their perceived constraints including adequate time, resources, and knowledge. Even if landholders have favorable attitudes and feel social pressure to adopt these pollinator BMPs, they still need to feel like they have the time, resources, and skills to actually use them.
Although the majority of landholders had previously adopted pollinator BMPs, many still reported they did not have adequate knowledge to use them. While awareness of pollinator declines continues to rise, knowledge of how to implement practices to protect these important invertebrates has not kept pace.
Through the grouping techniques, I was able to determine that those who were more familiar with the BMPs (i.e., Current Adopters who were using the practices at the time of taking the survey) had reported that they were more likely to use them in the future. They also reported greater knowledge, more favorable attitudes, and felt less constrained than those who reported they were no longer using the BMPs or had never adopted any. Agricultural landholders used more BMPs, had greater knowledge, more favorable attitudes, and felt less constrained than timber or non-production landholders.
Targeted Education & Outreach
So what does this all mean? The surveyed landholders used pollinator BMPs to a varying degree, yet their responses indicate that more knowledge cultivation is necessary to increase BMP adoption in the future. Currently, pollinator conservation messaging is broad because there are many ways to get involved and provide support. This lack of specificity in messaging means landholders do not have the knowledge they need to feel comfortable adopting pollinator BMPs. My research indicates that landholders would be better supported through a two-step approach:
By better targeting our education and outreach efforts, we may begin increasing knowledge and reducing the perceived constraints of landholders, allowing for increased adoption of these beneficial pollinator BMPs.
Humans Are the Solution
Although biological and ecological studies are essential for pollinator conservation, they are only two pieces of the puzzle. Human dimensions research is often overlooked in wildlife projects, yet it is a key component, especially if the goal is to increase the involvement of private landholders. Rural landholders provide a potential wellspring of support that could result in substantial change. We need to harness this interest by further studying human dimensions to provide more targeted support.
Although informative and interesting, my study is only the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot more we can discover about people’s connections to pollinator conservation. Recent studies have shown people’s interest in and support for pollinators, like the National Recreation and Park Association’s online and regional pollinator surveys, which provide further evidence of the need for more targeted support options for private landholders.
Now is the time to change the role of humans in pollinator conservation from problem to solution. By understanding attitudes, social pressures, knowledge, and constraints of private landholders, we can provide more targeted land management recommendations that lead to the adoption of pollinator BMPs and improve habitat connectivity and health.
Shannon recently completed her PhD at Mississippi State University. She is currently helping champion Mississippi State University's efforts to become a Bee Campus USA.
Guest Blog by Becky Griffin, MPPPM Project Coordinator
On August 23rd and 24th Georgians joined together to support insect conservation by counting insects in the Great Georgia Pollinator Census. Led by University of Georgia Extension, this community science initiative project resulted in over 4,600 counts submitted with over 133,000 insect visits tallied and reported. Eighty-five percent of Georgia’s 159 counties had participants submit results. As far as we know this is the only census of its kind in the country and so our tagline for the project was “Be Part of Georgia Pollinator History.”
Beginnings and Inspiration
Teachers leading school gardens and most community gardeners are not usually trained in entomology. Many Georgia gardeners do not know the difference between a beneficial insect and a pest; they struggle with insect identification. Often gardeners are unsure of how to make their garden friendly for beneficial insects like pollinators. The need for informed and educated gardeners is crucial to increase pollinator conservation, especially for teachers who are instructing students. This became increasingly evident as I traveled around the state assisting school and community gardeners with their garden issues.
Also, there has not been an overall pollinator inventory taken in Georgia. While providing current pollinator population data of interest, a census serves as a baseline for future research.
In 2017 we launched a pollinator census pilot project. Gardeners from fifty gardens agreed to participate. We used the results from the first pilot project and a follow-up project in 2018 to fine-tune our counting criteria. We wanted to ensure that the census was doable for our citizens while generating useful data. During late 2018 we finalized our process and announced the 2019 dates for the Great Georgia Pollinator Census.
Goals of the Project
Although the Great Georgia Pollinator Census was designed for any citizen to participate, we were especially interested in the participation of school groups, and especially those who have science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs and are perhaps working towards STEM certification. For Title 1 schools this was a science program at no cost.
1. Create sustainable pollinator habitat across Georgia.
2. Increase entomological literacy of Georgians so they will appreciate insect diversity in their gardens, learning that most insects are not pests.
3. Generate snapshot of Georgia's pollinator populations.
Technology’s Role in the Census
A project website houses the project, including resources like lesson plans and class ideas for teachers.
Continuing to use the hashtag #GaPollinators started with the 2017 pilot project., our social media campaign launched in January 2019, A Facebook group, Georgia Pollinator Census, allowed us to provide educational snippets for participants, gearing them towards habitat creation and insect identification skills. Teachers could use these educational pieces, especially Fun Fact Fridays, on their smart boards and participate in on-line and face-to-face insect identification trainings.
Project promotion started with creating sustainable pollinator habitat. Throughout the winter months we taught classes and used social media outlets to teach planting practices, give research-based plant recommendations and encourage best plant maintenance strategies. We also emphasized other insect habitat needs such as leaving bare, undisturbed ground, having wild areas around landscapes and the sustainable use of bee boxes. During the spring we started teaching insect identification. Although the skills needed to participate in the census were not advanced, we needed to ensure that participants could tell a bee from a fly, a carpenter bee from a bumble bee, etc. We used social media for insect identification instruction and quizzes. Closer to August 2019 we encouraged practice census counts.
University of Georgia Extension agents and Master Gardener Extension Volunteers were educated in train-the-trainer sessions so that they could host events, teach insect identification, and instruct their clients on how to participate in the census. Supported by the website, over 115 Extension census-related events took place in 2019.
Other stakeholder organizations were recruited as partners in the project. Partners were asked to promote the project and host events around the census. Partners included Bee City USA, Georgia Tech, Callaway Gardens, Georgia Native Plant Society, University of North Georgia, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, The Garden Club of Georgia and others. This project could not have been successful without our partners!
The director of Georgia Tech’s Urban Bee Lab joined me in a promotional video This is just one example of multimedia tools used in the project. The local media, like the Farm Monitor, also promoted the project.
Participants were asked to choose a favorite pollinator plant for counting, a plant showing insect activity. Each count took 15 minutes. During the census Georgians counted insects and put them in these categories:
Participants counted the number of times an insect landed on their plant so they were actually counting insect visits. Census locations were diverse! Insects were tallied at 4-H gardens, gardens from the Garden Clubs of America and Daughters of the American Revolution spaces. People participated at several Georgia State Parks. Businesses also participated with the Blue Ridge Humane Society hosting a count as well as Slow Pour Brewing Company. The golfers at Oaks Grove Golf Course and several Girl Scout Troops counted. The monks at Monastery of the Holy Spirit also participated. Individuals counted at home and with their families. We had a diverse group of counters!
Participants uploaded their insect counts to the webpage. Extension personnel and entomologists were available to assist with any questions. Teachers, gardening groups, and individuals could print a certificate of participation from the website.
The most frequent comment we heard was how wonderful it was to sit still for the 15 minutes and just watch the insects. This has been the most rewarding part of the census for me." Becky Griffin
Impact of the Study
With enthusiastic counters submitting more counts than expected, we were very pleased with participation. When a concerned older gentlemen was having trouble uploading his counts to the website, he phoned me to ensure his counts would be registered. I was happy to upload his counts for him. The most frequent comment we heard was how wonderful it was to sit still for the 15 minutes and just watch the insects. This has been the most rewarding part of the census for me.
Here are some comments from participants: "I actually learned, for the first time, how to distinguish between carpenter and bumble bees and honey and small bees!" and "The fear you feel about pollinators decreases as your knowledge increases." A couple of comments from students: "Bugs love tomatoes." and "I got to see some animals that I have never seen before and to me that was really cool." And from an educator: "My fourth grade class was excited to see the number of pollinators. They oftentimes miss the smaller species, as they focus on the larger, more noticeable, 'cuter' animals. This experience helped them gain an appreciation and understanding of how connected all species are to the health of this planet. Happily, they found beauty in all too!"
We have started sifting through the data and hopefully will have several articles submitted for publication beginning in late 2019.
Georgians mark your calendars! We will be repeating the census on August 21st and 22nd, 2020.
By Phyllis Stiles, Bee City USA Founder & Pollinator Champion, Xerces Society
Most bees and other pollinator species are under stress, and while we wish could prescribe them some Prozac, the better action would be reducing as many of their stressors as possible. According to a United Nations study released in 2016, stressors include: fragmented habitat, poor nutrition, pesticides, diseases, parasites, and climate change, which are interacting to put 40% of insect pollinators at risk of extinction.
Pollinators Need Trees!
What if I told you just by planting a tree in an urban or suburban area, you could help lots of species of pollinators and birds, filter stormwater runoff before it pollutes and floods streams, reduce the urban heat island effect, and mitigate climate change? This is actually a case of too good not to be true! Almost all bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, flies, beetles, birds and bat pollinators would benefit tremendously from more native and/or blooming trees—veritable meadows in the sky. America’s nearly 3600 species of native bees rely on pollen from flowers as their primary source of protein and nectar for their carbohydrates. About one third of bee species specialize on specific plants families for their pollen source, many of them native trees. Many butterflies and moths lay their eggs in native trees, where their caterpillars feast on the leaves. According to Dr. Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, native oaks (Quercus spp.) support 534 species of butterflies and moths, black cherries (Prunus spp.)–456, and willows (Salix spp.)–455. Many pollinator species nest or overwinter in leaf litter from trees, or in dead wood in small tunnels made by beetles and other critters.
Our Planet Needs Trees!
A recent study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that forest restoration offers one of the best climate cooling solutions available today. You can read the report here.
For substantial impact, researchers found we would need to plant at least 1 trillion trees as soon as possible to allow them to begin sequestering carbon and restore forest ecosystems. Through the miracle of photosynthesis, healthy trees take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store it in their leaves, trunks, branches and roots until they die.
While the IPCC study prioritized restoring forests, its central finding of the power of trees to store carbon and cool the planet serves as a good recommendation for urban areas as well. Equally important, those same trees offer hope for reversing some pollinator declines.
What Are You Waiting For? Get Buzzy!
Gather a group of stakeholders who care about both pollinators and climate change to brainstorm what it would take to get lots of trees (preferably native or fruit trees) in the ground this fall and spring. Consider inviting your local Bee City USA or Bee Campus USA committee, tree nurseries and retailers, Audubon Society, Sierra Club, tree board, native plant society, beautification committees, civic groups and Master Gardeners. There are 3 goals for this planning meeting: a) Set a time and place for a public meeting; b) Brainstorm a list of local native tree suppliers; and, c) Determine who will quickly survey those suppliers to develop a recommended list of native trees including whether they are available this fall or next spring.
CAUTION FOR FALL TREE PLANTING
Dug, balled and burlapped trees are considered fall transplant hazards, including many natives. Trees grown in containers should be safer as long as they are planted well, with roots spread out and in good contact with the native soil. Read more here.
Identify the meeting facilitator and promote the meeting–invite your email lists and run a guest editorial or ad in local media for a few weeks to announce the public meeting to recruit tree planters.
At the public meeting, share the recommended species list and suppliers, explain the goals for “Operation Trees for Bees,” and ask how many trees they think their community could plant within 12 months. With that target in mind, ask who will buy the trees, who will plant them and where? Identify stream banks that could use more trees and shrubs for stabilization and, in turn, serve as welcoming habitat corridors for pollinators. (Friendly competition among organizations or neighborhoods can be a good motivator!) Realizing that trees must be tended if they are to grow up and sequester lots of carbon, perhaps each stakeholder group could commit to a certain number of trees they feel is realistic for them. Trees could be bought in bulk and resold, or individuals could buy their own tree from a retailer. To sustain enthusiasm and recognize those who are planting trees, ask someone to set up a website or Facebook page to track progress. It would be great to have a very public “thermometer sign” somewhere in town to track progress as well. An artist could have lots of fun with the sign!
Implement the plan and host a celebration at the end of the year for all of the tree planters to attend with a photo and name of the tree they planted hanging from their neck. At that meeting, gather commitments for trees to be planted in 2020, especially during April, which is both Earth Day and Arbor Day month.
By Phyllis Stiles, Bee City USA Founder & Pollinator Champion, Xerces Society
Pollinator-friendly garden programs, like Xerces' own Bring Back the Pollinators Pledge, and the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, are growing (no pun intended!).
As I started writing this blog, three pedestrians stopped to read my pollinator habitat sign nestled in my front yard flower bed. So I left my computer to greet them and tell them about how we need insects and pollinators to feed birds and other creatures and to help nearly 90% of flowering trees and plants reproduce. That's why we welcome pollinators into our yard by planting a variety of locally native plants and not using pesticides. They were delighted to hear from the gardener and, in turn, shared stories about their own yard and community.
But do those kinds of exchanges really cause people to enhance more habitat for pollinators in their yards? At Bee City USA, our goal is a paradigm shift away from ornamental landscapes—dominated by lawns and exotic plants treated with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides—to untreated landscapes dominated by a diversity of locally native plants. So we are asking the age-old question—are rewards more effective than punishment in changing human behavior? The famous psychologist B.F. Skinner has written volumes on the topic of behavior modification. This blog will explore the psychology of pollinator garden certification programs for eliciting behavioral change and share information about two programs started by Bee City USA affiliates.
The conventional model of landscaping in the United States that features expansive lawns with a few exotic trees and shrubs has evolved for "ease of maintenance" and a "tidy" appearance. Sadly, turf grass and exotic trees and shrubs rarely provide food for pollinators. Most trees and shrubs in American yards were chosen because they were inexpensive and widely available, not because they support wildlife. Repetition, after all, is actually a guiding principle of landscape design. Additionally, our natural desire to blend in also caused us to mostly copy our neighbors. Ironically, that meant buying lawn mowers and devoting untold dollars and hours to lawn care most of the year. Many homeowners do so to increase the value of their homes.
Many homeowners’ associations and municipalities offer disincentives (fines) to residents who don't keep their yards tidy enough and lawns mowed short enough; some for fire prevention and rodent control reasons; and many simply for aesthetic reasons. Some impose harsh fines for having plants that get too tall. This reflects the punishment approach to behavior modification—but according to a 2017 study, reported in the Harvard Business Review, rewards can be as effective, if not more effective, than punishment for persuading people to behave in a desired fashion. So, what would it take to get Americans to break with convention and, as Bringing Nature Home author and Bee City USA science advisor Doug Tallamy says, "Garden as if life depended on it"?
What Would Motivate Landscapers to Change Behavior?
There will always be both early adopters and reluctant adopters of any new behavior. (I'm old enough to remember all of the grumbling when safety belts were first introduced to cars. Some people didn't use them until they were threatened with fines (i.e. punishment). As for landscaping, some people simply have no interest in landscaping of any kind, conventional or otherwise. Those people may either let nature take its course (which actually could support pollinators) while others might hire landscaping crews to manage their landscapes. Landscape designers and maintenance businesses are beginning to recognize the role landscaping can play in conservation, and also that it could provide them a competitive edge in their industry (a "reward"). As for individuals, the reward could be beautification, or cutting the costs and time associated with lawn care. If they understand the vital role pollinators play in sustaining our planet and human diet, the reward could be helping to sustain pollinators. Having a better yield (pollinators often enhance the quality and quantity of vegetable production) could be the reward for vegetable gardeners, or providing baby bird food (caterpillars) could be the reward for birders. The bottom line is that until a person understands the potential benefits, they have no reason to landscape for pollinators.
How Should Pollinator-Friendly Landscapers Be Rewarded?
Individuals, organizations, agencies, and businesses can enhance habitat for pollinators and hopefully feel an intrinsic reward of having done something that makes people and the planet healthier. But does the old question of whether there was a sound if no one heard the tree fall in the woods apply here? Indeed, many people respond to external validation, and if their good deed is not publicly recognized with a sign or otherwise, there is no extrinsic reward. Each time they see the sign marking the pollinator habitat, they, as well as other viewers, are reminded that this landscape is different because somebody went to the trouble to make it pollinator-friendly. You may want to think of it as an ongoing, visual pat-on-the-back. Seeing your garden included in an online map or in a local list is also a sort of public reward.
Ensuring Reward Is Merited
If the saying "When you expect more, you get more" is true, expecting more is definitely the way to go! It's a rare person who goes above and beyond expected standards, but if they are asked to do so, most people are usually willing if given a good reason and good incentive. If someone gardens as usual with mostly exotic plants and routinely using pesticides and still gets recognized for their pollinator habitat, the recognition has not caused a change in behavior. Even worse, recognizing a garden that does not actually support pollinators sends the wrong message to the entire community.
Want to Start a Local Pollinator Habitat Certification Program?
A local pollinator garden or habitat certification program is a good way to generate interest in gardening for pollinators, establishing qualifying standards, and rewarding the people or organizations who achieve them.
A wide diversity of existing certification programs offer a spectrum of program design possibilities. Some are very explicit like the Penn State University's Master Gardeners Pollinator Garden Certification Program and require a modest application fee and site visits prior to certification, while others, like Xerces' program, use the honor system and require applicants to accept four commitments: grow pollinator-friendly flowers, provide nest sites, avoid pesticides, and spread the word. The former takes more administration on the part of the certifying group, while the latter reaches a larger audience (it is designed to be implemented in a variety of landscapes, from community gardens, to suburban backyards, to farmland) and offers a map of certified habitat locations and a wealth of resources for enhancing pollinator habitat online. Some organizations provide signage, while others make signage available for purchase or as a thank-you gift for a donation. Another option is to provide artwork for certified gardeners to use, so that they can produce their own signs.
Monarchs Across Georgia's Pollinator Habitat Program requires you to implement at least nine conservation practices and include the following in your garden:
Bee City USA–Talent, Oregon, also has a garden certification program and even installed Bugingham Palace, for tunnel-nesting insects in 2018. They are thrilled each time they certify a new garden and enjoy praising the garden owners publicly. Garden owners complete an application and a worksheet, that are reviewed during a site visit. Once approved, they receive a 12" x 12" metal sign that costs the applicant $12. In addition to their 38 certified private gardens, they also have a monarch waystation and six public gardens—in the roundabout in the center of town and at city hall, the police station, the post office, the historical society, and the skate park. This is a joint effort between the Talent Garden Club and Bee City USA - Talent. The garden club, under club member Gerlinde Smith's guidance, is leading the pollinator garden effort, recruiting two volunteers for each public garden to be “garden stewards.” Stewards commit to checking the garden each week to weed, water, and plant as needed.
About Pollinator Garden Signs
Garden signs may offer some education, or even have a QR code, and refer the viewer back to a website (as Xerces' sign does); they may have the logo of the certifying group; or they may simply have a picture of a pollinator. The pollinator may even be painted by a child. Some say the latter is ideal since it engages children in pollinator conservation. However, there is power in being part of something larger. Seeing the same sign in location after location is a repetitive invitation to join the movement and create pollinator habitat corridors in the process. Such signs also refer the viewer to a resource for more information.
Pollinator Garden Tours
Just ten certified pollinator gardens may provide enough destinations to host a pollinator garden tour. An avid gardener, my husband has even allowed our Asheville, North Carolina, garden to be included in Asheville GreenWorks' pollinator garden tour. As though I needed to be reminded of the need for a paradigm shift when I was helping plan that garden tour, it was difficult to find many native plants in most yards in my own neighborhood, much less milkweed for monarch butterflies.
Using my husband as an example again, he has traditionally avoided going on garden tours because it makes him feel his garden doesn't measure up. As beautiful as formal pollinator gardens can be, at Bee City USA, we hope the focus of pollinator garden tours is how gardens are supporting pollinators more so than how stunningly gorgeous they are. While the two are not mutually exclusive, with large budgets and manpower, anyone can create a stunning garden. Ideally, gardens that support pollinators also are beautiful and tidy. But in the end, we want visitors to feel educated and empowered, more than awestruck and overwhelmed. That's why we created reusable "factoid signs" to produce and place at strategic locations along the tour. Of course, the factoids should be customized to local conditions.
Bee City USA–Ashland, Oregon, sold 175 tickets for its third pollinator garden tour on June 29 and 30, featuring eighteen of their 53 certified pollinator gardens. (Watch a lovely podcast from The Literary Gardener about the Tour, and find their certification nomination instructions here.) Ashland's Conservation Division provides up to a $3,000 reimbursement for homeowners who remove their irrigated lawn and replace it with a low-water use landscape, such as a pollinator garden.
Norms have changed throughout history. Something that was once taboo, if not illegal (think Prohibition making the sale of alcohol illegal exactly 100 years ago), later becomes both widely supported and legal. Someday we hope America's managed landscapes will be connected pollinator playgrounds.
By Peter Helfrich, Chairperson, Bee City USA - Decatur, GA (Beecatur)
As the chairperson of Decatur’s Bee City USA committee, I’m frequently asked if backyard mosquito spraying harms bees and other beneficial species. Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The pesticides most mosquito spraying companies use are non-targeted and also kill bees, butterflies, moths, ladybugs, dragonflies, and lightning bugs. In run-off, these pesticides can also be highly toxic to fish and other aquatic life.
Backyard Mosquito Control Services On the Rise
Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of backyard mosquito control services operating here in Decatur and throughout Georgia. In fact, there are now more licensed mosquito control providers in our state (690) than McDonald’s restaurants (453)! Most backyard mosquito barrier treatments consist of a broad-spectrum insecticide, usually a pyrethroid. Pyrethroids are synthetic versions of pyrethrin, a toxin found in Chrysanthemum flowers. Thus, mosquito control companies will often market their services with words like “derived from flowers,” “organic,” "green," “environmentally friendly,” “biodegradable,” or “natural.” Pyrethroids are in fact chemical nerve agents.
Application is commonly performed via a backpack sprayer or fogger. This is problematic due to the possibility of drift into areas containing blooming plants that attract bees and other pollinators, and drift across property lines. Other services install automatic misting systems that function similar to programmable lawn sprinklers. Such misting systems are neither EPA-approved, nor endorsed by the American Mosquito Control Association, which states they can put pesticides unnecessarily into the environment, kill non-target insects, and promote resistance in mosquitoes, thus exacerbating the mosquito control problem.
Some service providers offer bee-safe blends of essential oils or garlic designed to repel mosquitoes. Though some homeowners swear by them, the effectiveness of these formulations is unclear.
Prevent Mosquito Breeding
Because it’s virtually impossible to protect non-target species, trying to kill biting adult mosquitoes is difficult. Instead, eliminating mosquito breeding areas is a critical first step for homeowners in addressing mosquito problems. That means emptying sources of standing water (flower pots, buckets, etc.), cutting back overgrown vegetation and keeping rain gutters clear of wet leaves. Dunk-style larvicides (Bacillus thuringiensis) can be safely used in birdbaths and ponds, stopping mosquitoes from ever reaching their adult stage. Pumps or fountains that keep the water in garden water features moving also help deter adult mosquitoes from laying eggs.
Protect Yourself First
Instead of spraying your entire property, spray yourself. Applying skin-based insect repellents when outside and avoiding outdoor activity at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active are safe, simple, proven means of avoiding annoying bites. If you don’t like DEET, try a product with Picaridin or organic repellents that contain Lemon Eucalyptus oil.
Because mosquitoes are notoriously weak fliers, keeping the air moving with a box fan or overhead fan when you sit outside is another effective – and pleasant -- deterrent.
Encourage Mosquito Predators
Attracting and encouraging the presence of natural mosquito predators like birds, dragonflies, spiders and bats can also be an excellent means of biocontrol. But to do so, residents must first begin to think of their yards as what they really are – mini ecosystems.
Perspective on Mosquito-Borne Illnesses
Last year, metro Atlanta received more than 70 inches of rain. With an average daytime high of 89 degrees F during the summer months, mosquitoes thrive here. Nevertheless, mosquito control companies sell a vision of backyards that are 100% free of biting insects. This wholly unrealistic expectation is typically bolstered by an appeal to fear of mosquito-borne illnesses. Diseases like Zika virus, Dengue fever and Chikungunya are often cited though, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, none have been locally transmitted in our state. Other companies stoke fears of Malaria, a disease, which while a killer worldwide, was declared eliminated in the United States in 1951. While some mosquito-vectored illnesses like West Nile Virus are of real public health concern, it is important to note that only 34 cases were reported statewide in 2018. Of these, two deaths occurred. For perspective, 145 Georgians died of influenza last year, more than 600 due to gun violence, and an average of four people die every day on our state’s roadways. The reality of mosquito borne illness in Georgia simply doesn’t measure up to the perception that mosquito spraying companies are selling.
The typical backyard is home to approximately 1,000 different species of insects and a single acre may be home to more than a million individual insects. Some of those will be mosquitoes – this is Georgia after all. Killing them all indiscriminately simply isn’t the answer.
Collectively, Decatur’s residential backyards form an important part of our larger ecosystem. Mosquito control insecticides wreak havoc on that ecosystem. Thus, foregoing the use of backyard pesticides is a vital step all Decatur residents can take to help keep our community environmentally healthy and pollinator-friendly.
To learn more about Bee City USA - Decatur's efforts to decrease mosquito spraying visit beecaturga.com/mosquito-spraying.
Bee City USA Editor's Post-Script
Like Decatur, Bee City USA - Greenwood, South Carolina, under the leadership of Ann Barklow, has been aggressively educating the community about pollinator-conscious mosquito abatement. The impetus for creating their S.W.A.T. (Standing Water Attack Team) program was multiple mosquito spraying events by the City of Greenwood following a confirmed case of West Nile Virus in 2018. Bee City USA - Greenwood will soon be distributing this door knob hanger throughout Greenwood to raise awareness of steps individuals can take to protect themselves from mosquito bites, and pollinators from mosquito sprays. Contact Ann Barklow at email@example.com for more information.
Here are some publications regarding mosquito management from the Xerces Society:
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!
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
Header photo by: Nancy Lee Adamson
These are the opinions and events of interest to the Bee City USA coordinator and Xerces Society.