Native State Bees: It IS Your Beeswax!

A close-up of a bee pollinating a marigold (tagetes) flower (File Photo)

Jonson Kuhn
North Forty News

Look, up in the sky!  It’s a bird!  It’s a plane!  No, it’s a Colorado native bumblebee, here to save the day…unless we chase it off entirely, in which case nothing will be up in the sky at all. That’s what Joyce Kennedy and the folks at People & Pollinator Action Network (PPAN) have to say about it, anyway.  Who the heck is PPAN?  Glad you asked!  They’re an organization that focuses on bringing deep knowledge of and experience with pollinator protection, community development, environmental policy, sustainable agriculture, and habitat management to communities all throughout the great State of Colorado, with chapters currently headquartered in Denver, Boulder County, and Northern Colorado.

Joyce serves as the Chief Coordinator at PPAN, which puts her primarily in charge of things such as directing organizational development and project implementation.  Joyce has worked for 20 years as an environmental professional for consulting firms, nonprofits and the National Park Services, so it’s fair to say she knows a thing or two when it comes to preserving agriculture.  That’s why North Forty was excited to sit down with Joyce for a brief one-on-one interview to better understand the current issue of pollination in our state and what each of us can do to ensure it stays healthy and thriving.

As Joyce explained, there are many different types of pollinators, it varies from moths to butterflies and in some cases, even bats.  But the most efficient pollinator of the bunch is obviously that of the friendly bee.  The word “friendly” should be used because, despite popular belief, bees die almost immediately upon stinging someone, so it’s truly not in their interest to attack you unless provoked.  But come to find out, that’s not the only misunderstood fact about bees.  Another common misperception is that bees are largely in the decline, but according to Joyce, that’s just not the case.

“I find that one of the most important messages I’m educating the public about is that honeybees are managed, much like a farm animal, so they’re not actually going extinct.  What we need to be creating is a thriving environment for native bees because if we have too many honeybee colonies then we run the risk of seeing them run off the native bees.”

PPAN actually discourages most people from being honeybee keepers and would rather see the efforts placed more appropriately towards preserving native bee colonies because they’re the ones truly at risk of disappearing altogether.  How do we preserve native bees without farming them?  Grow native flowers!  According to Joyce, by simply growing plants and flowers that are native to Colorado’s natural climate, this alone increases native bee numbers.  Joyce explained that the two main issues threatening the existence of native bees are unrealistic landscapes and the chemicals used to achieve them.

“One of the big things we’re up against is this idea of the perfect pristine landscape where people have a monoculture of grass and they want to use plants that don’t really belong here and require a lot of water, and they’ll use chemicals to make it pristine. We want to try and change that dynamic, so people can appreciate what our landscapes are meant to look like and not try to replicate something from the North East where there’s lots of rain.”

If you’re reading this article and thinking to yourself, “Hey! Why aren’t I involved in this?!”  Don’t fret because if you buzz on over to their website, you’ll find no shortage of ways to join the hive.  You can peruse monthly e-newsletters, or sign the pollinator pledge, or even simply reach out to volunteer as pollinator safe leader in your community.

Still not enough?  Well, then you might just be happy to hear about PPAN’s latest success with the Department of Transportation, as Joyce explained, “We just worked with legislation this year to get a pollinator license plate bill passed, which means there will be a new special pollinator license plate next year.  So, we’re excited that people are going to be able to proudly display that license plate while spreading the word.”

Lastly, for those in the Fort Collins region, mark your calendars for October 23 as PPAN will be hosting a native seed swap, so please stay tuned to at peopleandpollinators.org for further details.

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