New Oregon Bee Project plans activities for National Pollinator Week

Bonnie Shoffner with Metro plays the game Which bee are you most like? with people attending an event sponsored by the Oregon Bee Project.

As National Pollinator Week approaches, the Oregon Bee Project is ramping up efforts to educate people throughout the state to help with bee health and conservation.

From June 18-24, bee experts and community partners will be at festivals to excite people about the importance – and fun – of bees, both managed honeybees and native bees. A kick-off takes place at the Oregon Zoo and Hoyt Arboretum Saturday, June 16, followed by over 20 events around Oregon throughout the week. The hands-on, kid-friendly activities include live honeybee displays, a hunt for some of the 25 different native bumble bees, information about gardening for pollinators and a petting zoo of male wild native bees, which don’t have stingers.

“The Pacific Northwest has more species of wild bees than all the combined states east of the Mississippi, at least 500 and we expect there are many more,” said Melathopoulos, bee specialist for Oregon State University Extension Service and member of the Oregon Bee Project steering committee. “Not only are they essential to our food systems and environment, they’re entertaining as all heck.”

Five years ago – during National Pollinator Week – an estimated 50,000 native bumble bees fell dead in a Willsonville Target parking lot after visiting linden trees that had been sprayed with a neonicotinoid pesticide. The incident made international news – not the kind of reputation environmentally friendly Oregon wants, Melathopoulos noted.

In response, the Oregon Legislature mandated a statewide program to bring together agencies already working to protect bees and use that combined energy to increase outreach. They created Melathopoulos’ position in 2016 to collaborate with the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Department of Forestry. The collaboration coalesced into the Oregon Bee Project in January 2017.

The Oregon Bee Project, which is releasing its strategic plan this week on its website, is charged with a four-pronged goal: protect bees from pesticides; increase habitat; reduce the impacts of diseases on bees; and expand our understanding of bees in Oregon.

In addition to its many events, the multi-agency project approaches its goal of education, research and outreach through several programs, including The Flagship Farm Program that honors farms and nurseries actively engaged in pollinator management. The agricultural industry nominates peers already using bee conservation practices and those growers go through additional training, use pollinator-attracting plants among and around crops and survey the species of native bees found on their property. In exchange, farmers – 20 so far – receive signage to put up on their land. Plus, more bees are around to pollinate their crops.

Pesticide applicators get continuing certification credit through courses that teach them how to thoroughly read often-confusing pesticide labels and how best to apply pesticides for bee safety. A phone app was developed to help them make good decisions on the fly. More than 2,000 applicators are expected to go through the course in the next few years.

Though honeybees, which are not native, represent an important aspect of the program’s educational efforts, ground- and cavity-nesting native bees are an essential component. About 150, and growing, volunteers from OSU Extension Master Gardeners, Master Beekeepers and Master Naturalists programs are busy collecting native bees to enter into the Oregon Bee Atlas, the first comprehensive survey in Oregon’s history.

“We don’t know enough about our bees,” said Sarah Kincaid, an entomologist with the ODA. “We haven’t had anyone looking for bees since the 1950s and that was in very few places. We want to know what bees are out there and what their range is. We’re expecting volunteers to find species that we don’t know are here. That’s exciting for them and certainly for us.”

Soon, he said, the first Oregon Bee School will be offered through OSU to further train volunteers so they can go back to their communities to spread the word.

“All of this is to say that bees are important to Oregon and Oregonians appreciate their bees,” Melathopoulos said. “The Oregon Bee Project is about connecting the dots among all the things that already exist in the state that will lead to the health and preservation of all of our bees.”

Other organizations involved in the Oregon Bee Project include Metro, Portland Urban Beekeepers, Xerces Society, West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District.

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