By Cornelia Reynolds, Chair, Bee City USA - Fort Bragg Committee
In 2016, Fort Bragg became the first city in California to become certified as a Bee City USA affiliate. As a small city of 7,300 in a rural county, everything we know about being a successful Bee City USA, we learned in retrospect. Recognizing our successes and weaknesses has helped us improve our conservation efforts, and we hope that other Bee Cities and Bee Campuses may learn from our experience. Here’s what worked for us.
1. Focus on a Specific Goal
When writing the point above, I kept adding and subtracting “s” to the word goal. While narrowing your focus to a single goal may be a challenge, we have benefited from focusing on one clear goal that embodies identity, strength, and planned impact.
Rather than guiding our intentions from the start, our goal grew as we recognized the strengths of our small community. Gardening is a natural part of rural culture; our city and region are filled with knowledgeable gardeners and small organic farmers. Gardening has even infiltrated our schools, which are known for their award-winning garden programs. One of our first projects after becoming a Bee City was a bee garden in a downtown park.
We recognized that we can help pollinators best by fostering bee gardening. Today our goal is to ensure every garden is a Bee Garden.
You can learn about our approach, Pro-Pollinator Planting, on the new website we’ve developed with our partner Bee Bold Mendocino, the local nonprofit which originally proposed Fort Bragg become a Bee City USA.
2. Don’t Organize, Inspire
The activities we organize are valuable, but the ones we inspire are the most effective.
Proud to be the first Bee City USA in California, the community pursued its own ideas about the meaning of Bee City USA. Civic organizations sponsored educational presentations, teachers incorporated pollinators into classes, the Fort Bragg Garden Club established an Annual Pollinator Garden Award, and the theme of the City’s recent 130th birthday party was Bee City USA.
Without anyone organizing it, opposition to pesticides grew. Citizens declared a Bee City must have pollinator friendly practices. Fort Bragg adopted an Integrated Pest Management policy in November, 2019.
Through our example we hope to inspire others to join in our goal of ensuring that every garden is a Bee Garden.
3. Involve your Community in Fundraising
Yes, in-kind donations and volunteer labor are critical to getting started, but it requires money to get more done. We make fundraising fun-raising, with lots of people involved in projects of their own making.
A dedicated knitter created dozens of bee caps, which we sold for a price, and sometimes auctioned for more, or awarded for services rendered to pollinators. A boutique held a Bee Art Sale of works donated by the artists to benefit local pollinator programs. A middle-schooler donated money from flowers he sold at school for Mother’s Day. An interior design store features regular bee education events and serves and sells Thanksgiving Coffee Company’s Bee Bold Coffee, popular with locals because our bee projects have received a percentage of local sales since 2017.
Our budget is small, yet we manage to fund many small projects, scholarships, plants for our Bee City Garden, flyers for local gardeners, educational materials for schools, and displays for local organizations and events. The Cause Coffee program is now open to other Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA organizations to include in their fundraising programs.
As we all know, our work to save pollinators has only just begun. The Fort Bragg Bee City USA newsletter shares bee gardening tips, how to gardens without pesticides, and more. Sign up today to receive twice monthly ideas on how to support pollinators.
And remember, every garden is a bee garden.
By Phyllis Stiles, Bee City USA Founder & Pollinator Champion, Xerces Society
At Bee City USA, we are frequently asked how to find funds for pollinator conservation. Here’s a fun and easy idea.
A friend hosted a birthday party for her husband earlier this year and used an online invitation service that offers the option of making a charitable donation. Just by naming the local Bee City USA leader, Asheville GreenWorks, as their charity of choice, they raised twelve gifts totaling $485. It also stimulated another $10,000 gift paid directly to GreenWorks.
Capitalize on the Season of Giving
What better time than the holiday party season to offer your friends a good cause to support? Online programs such as ECHOage and Evite make it effortless.
The service my friend used was Evite. Basic services are free and they have attractive invitation designs. (I’m old enough to remember when we snail-mailed invitations!) They store all of the RSVPs and alert you to guest comments through your email. Evite also sends party reminders and lets you thank everyone for attending afterwards. It’s really fun to collect and share party photos when you follow up.
Online Donation Program
Evite partners with the Pledgeling tax-deductible donation program. Nonprofit organizations must register with Pledgeling to be included, but registering is simple. The entire donation, less third-party credit card processing fees, are sent to the recipient nonprofit. Pledgeling sends the party host an alert via email each time someone donates, which also makes it easy to thank them right away. Each communication before and after the party includes the donation opportunity, but in a very low-key way.
Don't Have a Nonprofit or Fiscal Agent?
If you don't have a nonprofit or a fiscal agent to accept tax-deductible donations, don't despair! You may want to consider Facebook's donation service. On your effort's Facebook page, there's an "Add a Donate Button" option with this message: "Add a donate button to your post to raise money for a nonprofit, and we'll take care of the donation processing with no fees. To raise money for a personal cause instead, create a personal fundraiser.". You can set up a "personal fundraiser" on Facebook and include that link in your online invitation.
Too Late To Plan a Holiday Party?
No worries! This concept works all year long for any occasion.
Are you ready to party for pollinators?
By Phyllis Stiles, Bee City USA Founder & Pollinator Champion, Xerces Society
As I retire as leader of Bee City USA this December 31st, I will be celebrating each and every Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA committee member and pollinator advocate. They are making the world better for pollinators—and people!
It’s all about physics. Remember the Butterfly Effect? Pioneer in chaos theory, Edward Lorenz, introduced the concept in 1963. Here’s the idea. When a butterfly flaps its wings, it sets air molecules in motion, starting a chain of events that can snowball and create ever bigger changes, eventually even a tornado or hurricane in another part of the world. While the butterfly doesn’t create the tornado, it may not have happened had that single butterfly not flapped its wings. Physicists have a term for this: sensitive dependence on initial conditions.
I have learned each of our actions, no matter how small, has the potential for far-reaching ripple effects. Every minute, hour, day, and lifetime offers untold opportunities for good when we begin with gratitude for the cacophony of lifeforms that coexist, cooperate, and collaborate on our planet.
Beginning around 2011, when I first realized how wondrous and essential the pollinators are to sustaining life on earth, combined with alarm over the existential threats they face, I wanted to do something. But what and how? I naively started talking to my friends and neighbors to invite their help. I was 55 years old and already working full-time fundraising for a university, I knew relatively little about pollinators or plants, and I had no financing to launch a local—much less national—program. But Margaret Mead’s wisdom echoed in my head, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
In October, Molly Martin and Phyllis Stiles visited all Rogue Valley, Oregon Bee City USA affiliates: Talent, Ashland, Phoenix, Gold Hill and Medford, and the 1st Bee Campus USA affiliate, Southern Oregon University. We enjoyed a dinner together where you can see Molly (4th on left) and Phyllis (3rd on right).
In the years since, I have learned an awful lot about pollinators and plants. Incredibly, today there are 184 certified Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates in 41 states—all thanks to each “butterfly” who continues flapping its wings to bring attention to the tiny creatures that keep our planet blooming and fruiting.
With no exaggeration, these past eight years have renewed my faith in humanity. As I retire at the end of this year and leave Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA in Xerces’ capable care, I am brimming with gratitude for each pollinator advocate. It has been a privilege to talk with you, meet you, and hear about the ways you are mobilizing your communities for conservation. Thank you, thank you for bringing me such hope for the future.
After December 31st, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I plan to continue supporting Asheville's Bee City USA program and spending some time with my upright bass, doing yoga, hiking, reading the big stack of books next to my bed....I'll make my second trip to the Mexican monarch sanctuaries in January. My husband wants me to convert my home office back into a bedroom, but I don't know about that.
Bee City USA will be in good hands at Xerces. Based at Xerces’ home office in Portland, Oregon, the new coordinator is Molly Martin. She has a master’s degree in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology from San Francisco State University where she studied pollinator ecology. Contact Molly at email@example.com. You are really going to enjoy getting to know her!
Bee City USA Begins a New Chapter
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. Momentarily pausing hostility between the indigenous people and the European colonists, Native Americans offered the English colonists much welcomed hospitality, honoring their tradition of celebrating the fall harvest.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
Header photo by: Nancy Lee Adamson
These are the opinions and events of interest to the Bee City USA coordinator and Xerces Society.