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
Passover, Easter, Earth Day, honey bee swarm season, World Bee Day, preparation for National Pollinator Week in June, and more! What's NOT happening in spring?
Every time I look out my window or walk outside, I can barely contain myself. The planet seems to be shedding its winter clothes and loudly inhaling and exhaling to ooze millions of shades of lush green colors. One day nothing seems to be happening with one of our flame azaleas, and the next day it's awash in glorious blossoms. If it makes me feel almost drunk and giddy, what must the pollinators be feeling?
How about America's 40+ species of fuzzy bumble bees? Mated bumble queens hid away all winter and are now building up their few hundred-strong colonies of worker bees. You can report your sightings to Bumble Bee Watch, a community science project that is working to broaden our understanding of bumble bee distribution and will inform future conservation efforts.
Have your mason bees been checking out of your bee hotels? Are those newly emerged mason mothers now provisioning tunnel cells for offspring they will never see?
Have you seen any monarch butterflies or hummingbirds migrating northward? You can report your sightings at Journey North and witness the migration progressing up the continent.
How about the ground nesting mining or digger bees? Seventy per cent of the world's 20,000 bee species nest in the ground! Following Portland, Oregon's Sabin Elementary "tickle bees" has become a Xerces tradition.
Bees and other pollinators make great neighbors, even in urban areas! Positive stories of pollinator species returning after decades-long absences let us know that if we provide habitat, there's hope that they will return. The silver digger bees' return to San Francisco's Presidio was a recent one. In an interesting twist, the Presidio is actually the last known habitat of the Xerces blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces), for which the Xerces Society is named. Although it’s too late for the Xerces blue, we are pleased to hear that the Presidio’s habitat is recovering enough to support more pollinators!
As I have fallen in love with ever-fascinating and diverse pollinators this past decade, the year is increasingly measured by the arrival of the pollinator of the season. This spring, I fully intend to witness my first busy leafcutter bee trimming off a leaf medallion to wallpaper her nursery! What's your pollinator-watching goal for 2019?
By Phyllis Stiles, Pollinator Champion & Founder of Bee City USA (2012). Bee City USA has been an initiative of the Xerces Society since 2018
Bee City USA is an initiative of the Xerces Society and Xerces’ conservation work
is powered by our donors. Your tax deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.
As the days grow brighter and the grass greener, most of us experience some measure of spring fever. Here are five things Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates can do to take advantage of that primal urge to grab a shovel!
1. Tell your community that urban and suburban landscapes matter.
The National Pollinator Garden Network (with which Bee City USA and the Xerces Society are partners) announced vastly exceeding the goal of one million pollinator gardens on February 27. In the announcement, they referenced a growing body of research showing significant impact from small scale gardens. While honey bees usually fly in about a three-mile radius from their hives, some native bees have very small home ranges and may fly as little as 500 feet from where they emerge as adults. Therefore, they need a succession of flowers nearby throughout the growing season. Bee taxonomist for the US Geological Survey and coauthor of Bees: An Up-Close Look at Pollinators Around the World, Sam Droege said, “A little goes a long way. Homeowners should think of their gardens as restitution. Most American gardens have access to a hundred species of bees. Indeed, Prince George’s County, Maryland, hosts 260 bee species in contrast to the entire United Kingdom which hosts only 250 bee species. In some cases, when we plant a diversity of native plants, we can attract even more pollinator species than may have been there before.”
2. Promote the recommended native wildflower and tree species list that Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates commit to create and disseminate.
Pollinators co-evolved over thousands to millions of years with native plants for their mutual benefit. By planting exotic trees, shrubs, and plants that are often unrecognizable or unpalatable as food to many native pollinators, we have degraded pollinators’ food sources. Making your community more pollinator-friendly starts with incorporating a diversity of native flowering plants. Many trees, shrubs and grasses that don’t even flower act as larval hosts for hungry butterfly and moth caterpillars. Others offer nectar—a pollinator’s carbohydrate—for native bees, moths, beetles, flies, butterflies, and hummingbirds, and their pollen provides bees with essential protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
3. Promote growers and retailers that sell native plants.
Pollinator advocates can ardently encourage the public to plant natives, but if those plants are not available for purchase, the public can’t plant them. Nurseries are businesses, and businesses need customers to buy their products or services. Since the nurseries that supply native plants are often very small, their tolerance for risk is smaller than larger businesses. If they’re selling trees and shrubs, they have to plan several years ahead before the tree or shrub matures enough to sell. Likewise, if they sell perennials, they don’t want to have to overwinter them if they don’t sell. If you want to be able to find native plants, it’s important to support those local nurseries and retailers. Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates can promote nursery openings and spring plant sales, and highlight the pollinators to be supported by certain native plants. Guest editorials, letters to the editor, news stories, E-newsletters, emails, and social media posts can bring the customers those growers and retailers need to survive. The more people ask for particular native plants, the greater the chance the growers will propagate them for the next season. We also recommend using the Xerces Society’s Milkweed Seed Finder and Pollinator Conservation Resource Center to locate, support, and celebrate vendors near you!
4. Host and promote planting and habitat enhancement events.
Today, four out of five people live in urban areas. While individual yards may seem too small to help imperiled pollinators, a University of Chicago study showed that 4493 small gardens in Chicago totaled 51 acres. They also found the highest pollinator visitation in the neighborhoods with the highest human density. (Lowenstein, et al, 2014). Just because a plant species will grow in a certain planting zone doesn’t mean it should be planted where it’s not native. Even though flower generalists like honey bees and bumble bees can forage non-native invasive species like kudzu and privet, we urge you to remove them whenever possible to make room for the natives. You can also help native pollinators by planting fruit trees; herbs like mint, oregano, parsley, and lavender; or flowering annuals like old-fashioned cosmos, zinnias and single sunflowers. A diversity of plants attracts a diversity of pollinators, and supports biodiversity generally.
5. Take the mullet approach!
If your neighborhood has rigid landscaping rules, make it business in the front and party in the back! Mulch areas of the front yard neatly to provide habitat for ground nesters, and go more natural in your side and back yards. Use the “edge effect” around beds or natural areas to give the appearance of tidiness and integrate an attractive sign in your yard to let your neighbors know your landscaping may look a little different because you are inviting pollinators.
In short, if we take care of the pollinators, they will take care of us. Happy gardening!
Author’s Note: Sam Droege is a member of Bee City USA’s Science Advisory Board.
Xerces’ conservation work is powered by our donors.
Your tax-deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.
Most of us picture blooming meadows when we think of pollinator habitat. While wildflowers are essential for supplying nectar and pollen, a small bee must expend enormous energy to fly to flowers strewn across a landscape. In contrast, a single blooming tree offers a flower feast. To highlight this point, the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign’s annual poster for 2016 was “Trees for Bees.”
Bee Culture Magazine recently ran an article about the importance of hedgerows and trees—still an agricultural norm as late as the early 1900s—for providing pollinator forage, as well as nesting and overwintering habitat. The Xerces Society wrote this article about the benefits of hedgerows in farm landscapes in 2016.
“The advent of industrial agriculture after World War II radically changed the landscape,” said Dave Goulson, founder of the UK’s Bumblebee Conservation Trust and author of A Sting in the Tale. “Flower-filled hayfields were replaced by green, flowerless silage fields, traditional crop rotations were largely abandoned, and small fields bounded by hedgerows were merged into massive mono-cropped fields that rely on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Around the globe, industrial agriculture has eliminated once abundant habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects.”
The Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program was launched in 1976 to raise awareness of the importance of urban tree canopies and create local systems for maintaining them. During its formation in 2011, Bee City USA drew inspiration from Tree City USA, reasoning that if the Tree City USA program could help urban and suburban areas institutionalize efforts to enhance urban tree canopies, the same organizing principles could be applied to reversing pollinator declines in those areas.
The consequences of declining tree populations are legion, including profound ramifications for pollinators. As important as tree and shrub flowers are for feeding bees and other pollinators, even wind-pollinated and non-flowering trees and shrubs frequently serve as caterpillar host plants and nesting sites for the world’s 17,500+ butterfly and 160,000+ moth species. Entomologist Dr. Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, said, “Native oaks alone support more than 500 species of butterflies and moths, in contrast to exotic gingko trees from Asia that support virtually no American caterpillars.”
Most people associate trees with birds, but Arbor Day is also an excellent occasion for educating your community about the butterfly and moth caterpillars their tree canopy supports, and the vital role most adult lepidoptera play not only in pollination, but also the role they play during their caterpillar stage in feeding ninety per cent of young land birds. Tallamy said, “A single clutch of chickadees will eat 6000-9000 caterpillars before they leave the nest.” Tallamy collaborated with the National Wildlife Federation to create a Native Plant Finder that links plants in your zip code to the butterfly and moth caterpillars they support.
National Arbor Day is April 26, 2019. There are endless reasons for planting trees, not the least of which are storing carbon and oxygenating the air we breathe. This year, consider celebrating Arbor Day by planting fruit and other trees to offer meadows in the sky for our fuzzy little friends and food for hungry caterpillars. Visit Xerces’ regional plant lists page and Bee City USA’s Create Habitat page for tips on selecting species that are native to your area.
When thinking about planting trees for bees it is also good to think about how managing trees can affect bees, in particular insecticide treatments. A major Bee City USA commitment for certification is administering an informed integrated pest management program. The goal is to prevent pest problems, but when they arise, to address them in a way that least harms pollinators. The now infamous massive bumble bee kill caused by spraying blooming linden trees in a retail parking lot in Wilsonville, Oregon, in 2013 is a sobering reminder of how tree treatments impact pollinators. The silver lining to this incident is that it led to a ban on treating linden trees with several neonicotinoid products in Oregon and spurred new pest management policies and practices in many cities across the nation. Wilsonville even became a Bee City USA affiliate in 2017!
Author’s Note: Douglas Tallamy is a member of Bee City USA’s Science Advisory Board.
If you’re interested in pollinator conservation policy at the local, state, national, or international level, you may want to read a groundbreaking report in Environmental Science and Policy. Dr. Damon Hall is Assistant Professor at the School of Natural Resources in the Department of Biomedical, Biological & Chemical Engineering, at the University of Missouri (affectionately known as Mizzou), a certified Bee Campus USA affiliate since 2016. Hall teamed up with Rebecca Steiner of Saint Louis University to publish, “Insect Pollinator Conservation Policy Innovations: Lessons for Lawmakers.”
Until February 24, 2019, anyone can download the report for free using the author’s link:
The report provides a content analysis of 109 insect pollinator policies passed by U.S. state-level legislatures from 2000 to 2017—notably both before and then after publicity about colony collapse disorder, neonicotinoid insecticides, and highly-visible bee kills. Thirty-six states passed between one and nine laws each that fit into six categories: 1) Laws tightening apicultural management: bees as livestock; 2) Evolving views of bees as beneficial insects: laws to review pesticides; 3) Addressing pollinator declines: task forces on pollinator health; 4) Creating and managing habitats for pollinators; 5) Policy for increasing awareness of insect pollinators; and, 6) Research for insect pollinators.
From a positive perspective, these state level actions often bridge political divides and are predictors of what’s to come at the national and international levels. Moreover, they show lawmakers are increasingly seeing pollinators as beneficial insects which changes how lawmakers address pesticides.
The authors organized the laws into a searchable database, characterizing policy trends and documenting the spectrum of policy innovations. Hall says, “These 109 new laws cover apiculture, pesticides, pollinator awareness, pollinator habitat, and research. Together, they narrate an evolution of bureaucratic thinking on insects.”
Perhaps the most comprehensive habitat protection signed into law (MN HF976, 2013) is Minnesota’s Pollinator Habitat Program, requiring the Commissioner of Agriculture to develop best management practices and habitat restoration guidelines for pollinator habitat enhancement, and report to the agriculture and natural resource legislative committee. The report, developed in collaboration with the Pollution Control Agency, Board of Water and Soil Resources, and representatives of the University of Minnesota, must include proposals for establishing a “pollinator bank” to preserve pollinator species, creating “pollinator nesting and foraging habitat…including establishment of pollinator reserves or refuges,” and "provide criteria to evaluate neonicotinoid pesticides."
As Americans complain that the government is often gridlocked at the national level, Hall says, “I wanted to see the actual points of agreement at state levels around insect pollinator conservation. In so doing, we could argue that these more than 100 policies passed by state legislatures constitute points of consensus worth exploring for national policies and international agreements. After all, sustaining pollinators crosses rural and urban, and left and right, divides.”
Header photo by: Nancy Lee Adamson
These are the opinions and events of interest to the Bee City USA coordinator and Xerces Society.