You may have heard about Tree City USA, a nationwide program for communities which have demonstrated a commitment to caring for and managing their public trees. Over 3,400 communities now have Tree City USA status. Borrowing from this idea there is a new, exciting program to help support bees across the country: Bee City USA.
In 2011, Phyllis Stiles, a bee enthusiast with a background in non-profit organizations, came up with the idea. Phyllis first approached the Buncombe County Beekeepers in North Carolina and made a proposal to start Bee City USA. They liked what they heard, formed a steering committee, and eventually secured the support and participation of the City of Asheville, North Carolina. Bee City USA now operates as a program of the non-profit organization, The Center for Honeybee Research.
Asheville completed all the necessary steps and qualified as the first Bee City USA, the model for all future cities The program requires a municipality to take on a leadership role in supporting bees in their community. Phyllis, now the Director of Bee City USA, explains: “Cities have a great way of spreading information to their communities… they are in a position to use their power for good.” Phyllis notes that Asheville has an unusually active bee community, with one of the largest beekeeping clubs in the country, a perfect starting place for this promising program.
Honey bees are not the only creatures which benefit from the Bee City USA program. Native bees (4,000 in the U.S.), other beneficial insects, and entire ecosystems benefit too. Bee City USA encourages participating cities to use plants which are native to their county, and native plants which are locally available. Since European honey bees are generalists, able to forage on many different plants, they can utilize a great number of our native plants. By promoting the use of locally native plants, Bee City USA provides a way to support pollinators while improving local environments. Phyllis views the program as a way to promote biodiversity in every qualifying city.
Education is the key to the success of Bee City USA, and it is going strong in Asheville. Phyllis sees an opportunity to educate not just city staffers but schools and universities, corporations, avid and casual gardeners, and anyone interested in helping challenged bees. Homeowners are a crucial partner in helping bees. “Everyone thinks that my little bit doesn’t matter, “ says Phyllis, “but it does.”
Inspired by the program, a national company is now working with Bee City USA to install a corporate landscape in Asheville which will be bee-friendly, a “pollinator playground” serving as habitat and demonstration landscape. The project has not yet been officially announced, but the “pollinator playground” is expected to be completed in 2015, at a cost no greater than that of a traditional landscape.
If this program inspires you (how can it not?), then check out their website http://www.beecityusa.org/ and support the program with a tax-deductible contribution to the Center for Honeybee Research http://www.chbr.org/
Support Our Valuable Pollinators! from Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial
Photo: Bumble Bee on Helenium autumnale (Sneezeweed)
Photo credit: Nancy Adamson