A coalition of beekeepers, government agencies and green grannies are out to save the bees.
On Wednesday, the like-minded groups got together to dedicate a new pollinator-friendly garden at the Panorama community in Lacey, ban the use of a certain class of insecticides, and launch a pollinator awareness campaign.
The buzz is a response to the plight of honeybees and native pollinators that are under a multitude of threats. Their numbers have been declining, if not outright collapsing, over the past decade.
“It’s a dire situation,” said Laurie Pyne, president of the Olympia Beekeepers Association.
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Honeybee colony losses averaged 40 percent last winter nationwide. The number is an historical high and in line with local losses, Pyne said.
“These are unprecedented numbers for us,” Pyne said. The group has 245 members.
There doesn’t seem to be just one smoking gun, researchers say. But likely culprits include mites, habitat loss, communicable diseases and insecticides.
The result is that bees, responsible for the pollination of 80 of the 120-odd food types in the world, are dying at an alarming rate.
In response to the bee crisis, Thurston County — along with the cities of Tumwater and Olympia, LOTT and the Nisqually Land Trust — agreed to end the use of neonicotinoids on their respective public properties. Neonics, as they are often called, are a class of systemic insecticides many think are harmful to bees and other pollinators.
Neonics will still be for sale in Thurston County. There are 150 neonics approved for home use in the state of Washington. Homeowners interested in avoiding them must read labels closely as they often go by other names such as imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin.
Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero facilitated the agreement between the government agencies that combined are responsible for approximately 13,000 acres.
But the agreement won’t change any current practices of neonic use.
“Everyone we talked to believes they’ve never used the products,” Romero said.
The decision to ban neonics wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction, Romero said.
“We’re skeptics. We did a lot of research. Our environmental health department was very thorough in their research,” she said.
The neonics change bee behavior, Romero said. “Bees become disoriented, they lose their way back to their hives, they bring (neonics) back to the hive,” Romero said, but acknowledged that not all of the data is in yet.
“It’s better to act now rather than just point fingers,” she said.
Though some municipalities have banned neonics, this marks the first time a county has, said Mark Emrich, president of the Washington State Beekeepers Association.
Washington State University bee researcher and assistant professor Timothy Lawrence has been studying the presence of neonics in honeybee hives. He is about to submit a journal article on his findings.
“The data shows little to no exposure of neonics to honeybees in urban and rural (non-agricultural) areas,” Lawrence said.
But his research did find significant association of exposures to thiamethoxam and clothianidin in agricultural settings.
Lawrence believes the biggest problems for honeybees in the United States are the Varroa mite and loss of habitat.
“The neonicotinoids are, in my opinion, an unnecessary distraction from these issues. The banning of the use of neonics might make folks feel better about doing something — it will not make any difference to the health of bees,” Lawrence said.
‘BEE A POLLINATOR’
On Wednesday, the Olympia Beekeepers launched their “Bee a Pollinator” campaign that focuses on reducing the threats bees are under and increasing awareness of how the public can help them.
They hope the program will be a model for other counties.
Pyne is adamant that neonics are harmful to pollinators and getting governments to ban them as Thurston County has done is part of the campaign.
“That’s only part of the equation. The other part is loss of forage,” Pyne said.
Development has reduced open space. But the type of plants available to pollinators is more important than acreage. And that’s where the public can get involved, Pyne said.
“We are asking people to plant flowers that are healthy for bees. And don’t spray (insecticides) around pollinators,” she said. “The birds, bees and bats need you like never before.”
People who have bee-supportive gardens will be able to purchase a “These Plants Feed Bees” sign designed by Olympia artist Nikki McClure from the Beekeepers Association.
“It takes a lot of people doing little things collectively to do something grand,” Pyne said of the campaign.
The new demonstration garden at Panorama drew about 80 people Wednesday evening for its dedication. It was the idea of a group of Panorama residents who call themselves the “Green Team.”
“Our mission is to have a lighter footprint on the planet,” said organizer Sally Vogel. The group holds an environmental film series and runs Panorama’s recycling center, among other activities.
Panorama agreed to the idea of building the 25-foot-by-50-foot garden after the Green Team pitched it to them, Vogel said.
The new garden is a chemical-free haven for honey bees, native bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, bats and other insects and animals that benefit flowers and agriculture.
“What a gorgeous place to be a bee,” Emrich said at the dedication.
Once a section of lawn, the space now holds 40 different plants that pollinators can belly up to including ceanothus, currant, salvia, penstemon, yarrow, sunflowers and borage.
“We’re trying things out,” Vogel said. “We’ll see what plants take hold and what (pollinators) like.”
The group and Panorama purchased plants that had not been treated with neonics.
Vogel anticipates that bees from three hives already on the Panorama grounds will visit the garden. On Wednesday, several honey bees and native bees were already busy sucking up nectar in the garden along with swallowtail butterflies and hummingbirds.
The garden also has space for ground-nesting native bees and a water source.
“We hope it will be an education tool,” Vogel said.
The garden is symbolic in another way. It represents the remedy that everyone who cares about bees can agree upon.
“What I do think would make a huge difference and still make folks feel they are doing something positive for bees — because they will be — is to plant more flowers. Lots and lots of bee-friendly flowers,” researcher Lawrence said.