Mission: Bringing Back Pollinators

With the number of healthy bee colonies across the U.S. plummeting, actions to reverse the decline have taken on new urgency.

The statistics are sobering: Recent surveys indicate that an average of 30.5 percent of the nation’s managed honey bee colonies have been lost each year for the last six years. To rescue them, scientists and citizens have mobilized on a variety of fronts.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) supports dozens of projects to bring essential pollinators back.

In the Twin Cities, creating a buzz about bee-keeping is the mission of an outreach group known as the Bee Squad. With assistance from NFWF and Wells Fargo, the organization teaches private citizens how to raise bees sustainably and coaches residents on the basics of establishing home apiaries.

“We also educate people about native bee pollinators, the need for nesting sites for these wild bees, and for bee-friendly flowers and gardens for all bees,” says Marla Spivak, who directs the program at the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota.

At a two-day course in beekeeping at the campus in March, Spivak reports, enrollment numbered more than 250 local residents. She’ll enlist their continued help on a scientific effort, as well. Citizens will assist in collecting data on bee health in the region, and enter the information into a national bee survey (www.beeinformed.org).

Training non-scientists in the basics of bee knowledge and data collection is also the aim of a new initiative developed by the Pollinator Project. “This kind of work was largely done by trained entomologists in the past,” executive director Laurie Davies Adams explains. “But with NFWF’s help, we’ve put together tools and protocols that will help naturalists and other non-professionals to classify and collect bees in the eastern and western regions of the U.S.” The educational materials show how to identify the 47 native species of bees and collect them for research purposes. U.S. Forest Service employees in three Great Lakes locations will be testing them during the summer of 2014.

In Arizona, a NFWF-funded project with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at Eastern Arizona College is taking another approach. It’s focusing on increasing the number of native plants that attract pollinators. Thirty-two fruit- and seed-bearing species favored by bees, bats and butterflies are being raised with the Borderlands Habitat Restoration Initiative in a new, specially-designated greenhouse on the campus. By August, they’ll be available for restoration plantings in wildlife exclosures, at several Nature Conservancy sites, and in BLM projects in southeast Arizona.

“Rare grasses like big sacaton and alkali sacaton will be restored using plants grown in the greenhouse. Additional fields are being established to increase the amount of local native seeds available for restoration projects," explains Jeff Conn, a Natural Resource Specialist with BLM who directs the project. “We've been collecting seeds for the past two years and it's wonderful to be able to grow them out, replant them, or make them available to others. The whole idea is to reduce costs and make these species more available for the pollinators.”