By Phyllis Stiles, Founder & Director Emeritus of Bee City USA and co-chair of Bee City Asheville
Why Convene a “Great Buzz Gathering”?
As scientists announce increasingly dire alarms about the future of insects and pollinators, the need for action at every level--public, private, individual, organizational, institutional, and governmental--continues to escalate. Fortunately, people of good will are voluntarily using their expertise, assets, creativity, and connections to change our landscaping paradigms to welcome pollinators into the places we live, work, and play. Pollinators make great neighbors!
In 2012, Asheville, North Carolina, became the first affiliate of Bee City USA. Thanks to relentless local and national communication about the role of pollinators in sustaining our planet these past eight years, a wide variety of people and groups have gotten involved in local pollinator conservation work. Efforts have involved establishing more native plants, monitoring butterfly and bee populations, hosting educational programs for children and adults, and modifying pest management practices.
Inspire Broad-based Pollinator Conservation Efforts
In December 2019, the Bee City USA - Asheville leadership committee at Asheville GreenWorks posed the question, can we have even more impact by connecting local pollinator conservation efforts? After all, Bee City USA was founded to galvanize communities to sustain pollinators. With that in mind, we hosted our first Great Buzz Gathering in January 2020.
We had several goals for this gathering. We wanted to develop an agenda for 2020, collaborate with more organizations, and recruit volunteers.
How to Host a Gathering
Using email, we invited anyone who had done pollinators conservation work and encouraged them to invite others who were advocating for pollinators. We also promoted the gathering to the public on social media. If participants did not register online, they did so at the door to provide their contact information for future communications.
Thirty-four people showed up and four others sent their reports to be read during the meeting. Each attendee shared what they had done in 2019 and what they planned to do in 2020. We recorded the reports on a smartphone and several notetakers captured as much information as they could. The notes are being shared with all attendees, as well as those who did not come.
The Highlights: What We Learned
Not only did participants meet new pollinator enthusiasts, they began to recognize ways they might help each other. Shared activities included establishing a pollinator garden and Bee Day event at a local school; US Fish and Wildlife’s bee and butterfly monitoring; and pollinator plantings at New Belgium Brewing Company’s 18-acre Asheville campus. Learn more about the exciting and varied activities that took place in 2019 to conserve pollinators by reading our renewal report below.
Changing Pest Management Paradigms
Of the 38 participants, seven had native plant nurseries. Each year we ask nurseries and plant retailers to update our recommended species list to let us know which plants they carry and to recommend native plants that should be added. Whether large or small, nurseries reported they use virtually no neonicotinoid pesticides and they are trying to learn more about harnessing the power of beneficial insects in the war on pests. Some Master Gardeners in attendance raved about how they were solving pest problems in their vegetable gardens by integrating more insect-attracting flowers.
It’s extremely exciting to see how interest in conserving pollinators in the greater Asheville area has grown in a relatively short time. This gathering provided us with the opportunity to better coordinate our efforts and support one another in 2020. We easily gathered information to include in our Bee City USA renewal report and also coalesced existing efforts, which will make Asheville’s annual Pollination Celebration! month, and 2020 generally, resounding successes. Most importantly, we’re helping promote pollinator conservation in our community.
Guest Blog by Peter Helfrich, Committee Chair Bee City USA - Decatur, GA
Urban environments like Decatur provide critical habitat for pollinators. In 2019, Bee City USA® - Decatur, GA (affectionately known as “Beecatur”) spearheaded a number of new programs and events designed to educate city residents about the importance of bees and other beneficial insect species, and to demonstrate how Decaturites can play an active role in protecting them.
ADDITIONAL EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMMING
Other programming presented to groups in and around Decatur during 2019 included:
• “Bee-Yond Honey Bees: Meet Your Native Bees,” at Avon Garden Club (Avondale, GA)
• “3 Spring Bees” at Little Forest Pre-School (Decatur, GA)
• “Pollinator Power!” at The Museum School, 6th Grade Environmental Education class (Avondale)
• “Pollinator Power!” at Oak Grove Elementary, pre-K classes (DeKalb County)
• “Bee-Yond Honey Bees: Meet Your Native Bees” at Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, Dekalb County Women Educators’ Honor Society
Learn more about Decatur's 2019 Pollinator Conservation activities by reading their renewal report or visiting their website!
By Rachel Dunham, Community Engagement Coordinator, The Xerces Society
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” – Anne Frank
Five years ago, I started working with volunteers and in many ways it changed my life. I discovered a community of people who were eager to freely give of their time, experience, and hearts. It was inspiring and motivating, and eventually I focused my career on volunteer management. This has allowed me to continue to cultivate, and take part in, a community of incredible people.
Since 2018, I have been building an exciting new volunteer program for the Xerces Society. With a high demand for our presence at events across the country and a passionate community of potential volunteers, we developed the Xerces Ambassador Volunteer Program. This program aims to engage audiences in towns and cities through education and inspiring action around invertebrate conservation.
The benefits of this program are three-fold: It engages communities through volunteerism and connects Xerces to new communities; it provides an opportunity for the public to learn about invertebrate conservation and a new way to connect to nature; and it encourages action through participation in community science, changing gardening practices, nature exploration, and more.
Two of our key audiences are youth and gardeners. Gardeners are the perfect audience to engage with because they already have a unique connection with nature. With resources like plant lists and pesticide alternatives education, Xerces can help support gardeners to provide and improve habitat for pollinators.
Youth are our future—let’s face it, without their engagement in conservation, invertebrates and our planet as a whole will be in much more danger than it is today. By fostering a connection to nature through education and inspiration, it is our hope that youth will take action to steward the natural world around them. While Xerces has previously worked on projects with youth, this program will provide more time and resources to reach the next generation in a more significant way.
The ambassador outreach kit includes everything our Xerces Ambassadors need to participate in an event, which can range from plant sales and farmers’ markets to family-oriented, themed events such as Earth Day and pollinator week celebrations. To ensure that our outreach is engaging and accessible to all ages and backgrounds, we created activities that are visual, hands-on, and can be done independently or with a group. One of the activities is a card game where the participant matches the picture of the pollinator to the picture of the plant it pollinates. Many of the plants produce common food products such as chocolate, figs, and tomatoes. For younger kids, we have butterfly masks they can color while their guardians play trivia.
The most popular activity involves matching 10 bee specimens, a wasp, and a fly suspended in hand sanitizer inside bottles to their corresponding picture. Traditionally, bees are displayed on pins, often inside a box. The bottles however, allow kids and adults to easily handle the bees and most importantly, it displays them in such a way that makes them more animal like, fostering an emotional connection to these creatures that are often seen as creepy and strange.
Since training in March, the ambassadors have engaged over 4,500 people in 9 cities from Monmouth, Oregon to Ridgefield, Washington. We were able to participate in events such as Discount Days at the Oregon Zoo, Explorando el Columbia Slough, and the Vancouver Peace and Justice Fair, making connections with people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Visitors learned about Xerces and our work, participated in one of our engaging activities, and left with an action item: to explore butterflies and bees in their backyard or a local park, participate in community science programs, plant more pollinator friendly plants, and/or share this new information with friends and neighbors.
So, what’s next? For the Portland program, we are developing activities with the outreach kit that can be taken into schools, libraries, and other community centers. Ambassadors will be able to engage with youth in greater depth and continue to build deeper community support around invertebrate conservation. As for the rest of the country, get ready! In spring 2020 the ambassador program will be expanding beyond Portland, engaging three new cities: Omaha, Nebraska; Kansas, City, Missouri; and Nashville, Tennessee. It is our hope that these cities can serve as hubs for surrounding areas, and we invite anyone interested in the program and able to attend the in-person trainings to apply—see details below.
Before coming to Xerces, it was my dream to build a volunteer program. What I’ve learned through the process is that with a strong foundation, it is truly the volunteers that make a program extraordinary. This program is no exception. I have been inspired and filled with hope countless times because of the passion, drive, and desire that Xerces Ambassadors have to change the world. For that, I am forever grateful, and excited for what lies ahead.
Do you have a passion for conservation and working with the public? To learn more about the Omaha, Kansas City, Nashville, and Portland Xerces Ambassador Programs, and to apply, click here.
Learn more about the Xerces Society’s volunteer program, and view our full list of opportunities.
Community Engagement Coordinator
As the Xerces Society’s first Community Engagement Coordinator, Rachel has built our volunteer program from the ground up and is finding new ways for Xerces to connect to communities. As an Oregonian, she has always loved wildlife and being outdoors. Rachel pursued her passion for nature at Seattle Pacific University, graduating with a bachelor's in ecology, and earning a master's of wildlife conservation from the University of Maine. She spent years traveling between Alaska and Hawaii, working as a naturalist for the National Park Service, U.S.
By Molly Martin, Bee City USA Coordinator, The Xerces Society
Like many others, my introduction to the world of native bees began with their nonnative relative, the European honey bee (Apis mellifera). Four hives were neatly arranged on the patch of grass between my bedroom window and the Asian pear tree that failed to produce fruit throughout my childhood despite a private brigade of pollinators. From observing my bee-suited parents tend to our flying friends from the safe confines of a backpacking tent set up in our yard to watching for swarms in the trees around our home, bees became a part of my daily life. Since then my interest has migrated from honey bees to native bees, a subset of fauna that I find myself focusing most of my professional time on as the new coordinator of Bee City USA, an initiative of the Xerces Society.
This account of my journey to native bee conservation is of course a simplified one, skipping over many twists and turns in my interests and engagements, a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Environmental Studies from Whitman College with a focus on the link between silviculture and songbirds in Oregon’s Coast Range forests, and more recently a master’s degree in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology from San Francisco State University.
The combination of climate change and long-term fire suppression have led to fire regimes marked by large, high-intensity burns. In the fall of 2017, Napa and Sonoma counties in Northern California experienced unusually large and severe wildfires. In the early 2000s, the LeBuhn Lab sampled bee and plant communities at sites located in oak woodlands in both Sonoma and Napa Valleys; about half of these sites burned in the fall 2017 wildfires—but this provided the opportunity to study how fires impact bees.
While in California I was also involved in a project to complete the first survey of native pollinators on Mount Tamalpais. The project was a partnership between San Francisco State University, the Marin Municipal Water District, and California State Parks. I particularly enjoyed the community engagement aspect of the project. I helped train volunteers, worked with volunteers in the field, and coordinated community outreach events.
Joining the Xerces’ staff as the Bee City USA Coordinator has provided me with an opportunity to integrate my interest in scientific research with my excitement to work with individuals and communities to conserve pollinators. I look forward to working with our existing affiliates and continuing to expand the Bee City USA program to support pollinator conservation across the country.
Molly coordinates the Xerces Society’s Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA programs, initiatives of Xerces that support communities in their commitment to creating sustainable habitat for pollinators. Before joining the team at Xerces, Molly worked on a variety of projects across the western U.S., ranging from research to restoration, from environmental and outdoor education, to data analysis and visualization. She earned her master's degree in ecology, evolution, and conservation biology from San Francisco State University and her bachelor's degree in biology and environmental studies from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. When not working to conserve pollinators, Molly can be found romping in her garden; honing her cake baking skills; and exploring wild places by foot, bike, boat, or ski.
Guest Blog by Meilee D. Bridges, PhD, Southwestern University
Southwestern University has become the 87th educational institution in the nation to be certified as an affiliate of the Bee Campus USA program. Southwestern joins more than 150 other cities and campuses across the country united in improving their landscapes for pollinators.
The Bee Campus USA program is an initiative of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a nonprofit organization based in Portland, Oregon, with offices across the country. Bee City USA’s mission is to galvanize communities and campuses to sustain pollinators by providing them with healthy habitat, rich in a variety of native plants and free of pesticides. Pollinators such as bumble bees, sweat bees, mason bees, honey bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, hummingbirds, and many others are responsible for the reproduction of almost 90% percent of the world’s flowering plant species and one in every three bites of food we consume.
“The program aspires to make people more PC—pollinator conscious, that is,” says Scott Hoffman Black, Xerces’ executive director. “If lots of individuals and communities begin planting native, pesticide-free flowering trees, shrubs, and perennials, it will help to sustain many, many species of pollinators.”
Like so many of the University’s sustainability projects, the intention to apply for Bee Campus USA affiliation was initiated by undergraduates. In summer 2019, Josh Long, SU associate professor of environmental studies, approached Veronica Johnson, Southwestern’s sustainability coordinator, about research projects his capstone students might pursue, and Johnson suggested that they investigate ways to make the Southwestern campus more sustainable, such as greywater irrigation, integrated pest management, on-campus composting, green roofs, or Bee Campus USA certification. Sam Buehler ’20, Karonech Chreng ’20, Katey Ewton ’20, Spencer Kleypas ’20, and Abbey Lloyd ’20 were inspired by the last recommendation in particular because, as Buehler recounts, “it seemed like a fun project that would have immediate effects, whereas other topics would not necessarily come to fruition for a few years.”
The group put together a detailed proposal, which they titled “#BeeSouthwestern: Bee Campus USA and Pollinator Protection at Southwestern University” and presented to the campus community. “The students not only guided the University through the necessary steps to achieve Bee Campus USA certification; they also did a great deal of research on campus biodiversity and the promotion of pollinator habitat on college campuses at large. Their final thesis was over 60 pages!” says Long.
“It was amazing to be a part of this project,” Buehler reflects. “Most capstones tend to be research intensive, but this had a very clear and tangible goal with clear steps and was very communication and collaboration focused. We worked a lot with Facilities and Marketing, as well as the Sustainability Committee, and I am incredibly thankful for their help and support in this project, as well as for Veronica Johnson and, of course, our advisor, Dr. Long.”
Most capstones tend to be research intensive, but this had a very clear and tangible goal with clear steps and was very communication and collaboration focused.
Thanks to the group’s efforts, pollinator-conservation events and plans are already in motion. In October, the Southwestern Garden Club hosted a workday in the campus community garden, planting pollinator-friendly, drought-resistant plants in one of the main beds. That same month, during Sustainability Week, the students participated in Sustainability Fun on the Mall, raising awareness by handing out pollinator plant seeds and informational handouts to SU community members. And during the fall semester, the undergraduates collaborated with Facilities Management to have an area east of the athletic fields and bordering the walking trail officially designated as a protected native habitat.
The students also created a webpage to disseminate information to the campus and external communities; the site includes an updated list of native plants incorporated into the campus landscape, including their bloom time and habitat needs, and features Southwestern’s Integrated Pest Management Plan, which describes how Facilities Management already takes steps to minimize hazards to pollinators by using nearly no neonicotinoid pesticides, glyphosate herbicide, or other potentially dangerous pesticides. Over the next year, the website will grow to highlight links to student and faculty research into pollinator issues and information about future related events. For example, the students in the fall 2019 first-year seminar From Farm to Table is in part dedicated to the importance of pollinators in worldwide food production; the course included community-engaged learning projects, with two groups weeding and removing invasive plants from the community garden so that natural pollinator species could move in. As for future Bee Campus USA–affiliated events, SU community members can look forward to the Bat House Reveal Ceremony in spring 2020, which Johnson says will include an educational lunchtime talk about the winged mammals by local experts from Bat Conservation International and Austin Bat Refuge as well as a celebration of the University’s recently purchased bat houses.
Johnson appreciates that the students made the Bee Campus USA application their priority. “One of my core job responsibilities is to embed sustainability throughout Southwestern’s facilities services,” she comments. “Since starting in February, I have focused on our recycling and zero-waste efforts and developing a campus furniture standard. Since those have been my primary focus, I haven’t had the bandwidth to dive into the grounds side of things as much as I would like. Luckily, the environmental studies capstone group was able to take on the Bee Campus certification and make it happen.”
Although the #BeeSouthwestern group will be graduating in May, the University’s Sustainability Committee has assumed oversight of SU’s Bee Campus USA affiliation, which will assure that the campus continues to meet the program requirements and applies for renewal each year. “The Sustainability Committee expressed their appreciation for the thoughtful proposal by the students and appreciates their role in looking toward Southwestern’s future in building a reputation as the greenest college campus in Texas,” says Professor of Biology Romi Burks, who chairs the committee. So Buehler, Chreng, Ewton, Kleypas, and Lloyd can rest assured that their commitment to pollinator conservation specifically and sustainability more broadly will live on at Southwestern for years to come.
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.
Header photo by: Nancy Lee Adamson
These are the opinions and events of interest to the Bee City USA coordinator and Xerces Society.