Nonprofits Abuzz With Efforts to Support Northwest Bees

Apr 25, 2018

Two  projects launched in April aim to help bees in the Pacific Northwest, at a time when pesticides, parasites and loss of habitat make survival harder for both wild bumble bees and domesticated honeybees. 

The Evergreen Urban Bee Sanctuary, a small Olympia-based nonprofit, embarked on an effort to increase the genetic diversity of honeybees in the region.

Founder Heather Wood and several volunteer assistants just set up 13 hives with purchased honeybees last Saturday. In early summer, Wood plans to swap out the commercially-raised European queen bee in each hive for a variety of purchased and home-grown, locally-acclimated queens.

"The very long-term (goal) is to grow healthy, open-mated local queens that we can give everybody to have genetic diversity local to this area," she said.

Queen bees with varied genetics and adaptations could make colonies more capable of resisting pathogens and other stresses that threaten honeybees.

"It's not about the honey,"  Wood said, explaining that honeybees play an important role pollinating crops and wild plants, and that a number of interdependencies flow from that.

"Bees help all of us survive," she said. "My end goal is to bring balance back between native pollinators and honeybees who came over in the 1600s with colonizers."

Building A Pacific Northwest Bee Atlas

Separately, the Portland-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation launched a citizen science project to help map wild bumble bee distribution.

The partnership with the state fish and wildlife departments of Oregon, Washington and Idaho aims to produce a Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas that can be used to guide future conservation efforts for these important native pollinators.

“Washington, Idaho and Oregon are large, and include both heavily populated and wild areas, so we need an army of trained volunteers equipped with cameras to help survey the entire region,” Xerces Society Senior Conservation Biologist Rich Hatfield said in a statement. “With the help of citizen scientists we can cover all three states quickly, collect high-quality data and contribute information that will aid in conservation.”

Hatfield said volunteers can choose different degrees of involvement. At the basic level, you can take pictures of bumble bees and upload them with a smartphone app or computer through BumbleBeeWatch.org. A more engaged citizen scientist can adopt a geographic area -- a "grid cell" -- and survey wildflower areas in it on one or more days during bumble bee season. Again, all data is submitted online.

Citizen-scientist volunteer training events in Boise, Bend, Wenatchee and Portland between mid-May and mid-June are already mostly sold out. Hatfield said more sessions probably will be added, and there is also a webinar people can register for.

The bee atlas project is supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Competitive State Wildlife Grant Program and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. In Oregon, the project lasts through 2019 and in Idaho and Washington through 2020.