Saving the Bumblebee

April 3, 2014

triangle land conservancy

A few years ago, residents of Oregon walking out to their cars after a trip to the mall found thousands and thousands of dead bumblebees covering the pavement. 50,000 bees to be exact, in what “turned out to be the largest bumblebee die-off ever recorded,” writes Matt Miller for his Nature Conservancy blog.

This die-off is not unique, and is in fact part of a disturbing trend of bumblebee population decline across the United States. Native bees are not only important for agricultural areas, but are also “vital pollinators,” and are “more important to ecosystems than the non-native honey bee,” writes Miller.

While most assume the bumblebee is one species, there are actually fifty varieties with ranges that spread throughout the country. However, of these species four are in drastic decline, and two are close to going extinct.

Like many species, bumblebees face pesticide problems as well as “a long list of other threats – habitat loss, climate change, competition from non-native bees, [and] introduced diseases.” However, there are many ways concerned citizens can turn the tide of bee decline!

First, support legislation that decreases damaging pesticide use that not only hurts bees, but other native pollinators as well. Representatives John Conyers and Earl Blumenauer have drafted the “Saving America’s Pollinators Act” that “will suspend the worst neonicotinoid pesticides and direct EPA to perform a deeper evaluation of their impacts on pollinators.” If you support the bill, write and tell your own representative.

Second, lawn-owners can avoid pesticides themselves and plant native flowers, shrubs, and grass buffers that bees can use to feed, breed, and burrow.  Bees won’t be the only wildlife using your new, native yard: lizards, birds, dragonflies, and butterflies could all become frequent visitors. Lawns aren’t the only places we can create more bee habitat. TLC is using prescribed burns and other restoration techniques to allow Piedmont prairie to thrive in some of our nature preserves. These prairie ecosystems create abundant habitat for native wildflowers and grasses, thus increasing habitat area for bees as well.

Finally, bees are, understandably, hard to track. Luckily, the Bumble Bee Watch has taken advantage of new cell phone technology to encourage citizen scientists to take photos of any bees they see, submit the pictures, and even begin to identify bee species themselves. We all could take part in this important citizen science project this spring as bumblebees return to North Carolina.

Want to create your own wild pollinator garden? Check out these fun tips from The Xerces Society!

Find a TLC Nature Preserve Near You