Last night I attended a workshop put on by Bee Safe Boulder to talk about creating Bee Safe Neighborhoods. The concept was developed by the Living Systems Institute in Golden, Colorado. The goal is to get your neighbors to eliminate the use of systemic pesticides (e.g. neonicotinoids or neonics for short) at the very least (Level 1) and ultimately to eliminate the use of all pesticides in their yard (Level 2) and plant pollinator friendly plants to attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other beneficial insects into their yards (Level 3). If 75 contiguous households sign the pledge at any level, then the neighborhood is declared “Bee Safe” and gets put on the Living Systems Institute’s Honor Roll page.
The systemic neonic pesticides being used in our yards today are thousands of times more toxic to bees than DDT which was banned in the US in the 1970s. Systemic means that they are in every part of the plant – roots, fruit, leaves. Almost all non-organic corn and soybeans seeds in the US are coated in neonics when planted and only about 20% of this ends up in the plant – the rest is in the soil and water – to be taken up by non-treated plants, thus spreading the effect. A recent USGS study found neonics were widespread in the waters of the MidWest US. Many studies have shown that bees are being affected by the widespread use of these poisons (see this post for animated maps of the increased use over time). The European Union has banned neonic use, but the US EPA has refused to take action on this – even though the studies proving their safety have never been done or were seriously flawed. We are in an ongoing experiment and some feel that the bees are the canaries in the coal mine.
When we use pesticides on our plants, we not only kill the “pest”, but we also kill the species higher up in the food chain. Using a systemic poison on your roses to kill aphids affects the ladybugs who rely on them for food. Fewer ladybugs means less food for animals that eat them (e.g. birds), etc. There are many natural alternatives that can be used but letting nature take its course in a healthy ecosystem eliminates the need for many of these. When we disrupt the natural balance, we invite unwanted pests in. I stopped using any pesticides in my yard when I started keeping bees and my grass is some of the greenest and my flowers some of the prettiest in the neighborhood!
The first Bee Safe Neighborhood in the country is the Melody-Catalpa Neighborhood in Boulder, Colorado. Bee Safe David was one of the organizers of that effort and led the workshop last night. David is a really passionate guy when it comes to Bee Safe Neighborhoods. Here he is at the Western Apicultural Society (WAS) meeting in October.
There are now 6 official Bee Safe Neighborhoods in the country and more are on the way. Bee Safe Boulder has really been pushing this concept and last year, expanded it’s efforts beyond the neighborhoods of Boulder to cities in Boulder County. As David said last night, they want to become “Bee Safe Universe”.
I started working on getting my neighborhood to become Bee Safe last year, but dropped the ball this year because of too many other things going on. However, I did help out with the effort to get retailers who sell plants in Boulder County label plants that have been grown with neonics and/or stop selling products that contain neonics. Of the 80 or so businesses contacted, almost 20 signed the pledge at some level and the list keeps on growing!
There is also a category of “Bee Safe Communities” for organizations like schools and churches where they can pledge to not use systemic poisons on their properties. As part of the EcoMinistry at my church which has a Whole Earth Covenant, I led the effort to change the practices of our landscaping contractor to only use organic fertilizer and hand pull weeds. So this year, we became a Bee Safe Community – pledging at the highest level (Level 3) and are listed on the Living Systems Institute’s Honor Roll. There were concerns from some church members that dandelions would be unsightly and that we were trying to get more bees on site which could be a health risk to those who are allergic, particularly kids. So, it became an education campaign – bees are already there and rely on dandelions and pesticides suck (well maybe we didn’t say the latter). All we were doing is trying to make it a little safer for the bees and for the kids that play on the grass!
Another effort that Bee Safe Boulder has led is to get city governments to stop using neonic pesticides on their properties. There are a number of cities in the country that have banned neonics on city property (e.g. Eugene, OR and Spokane, WA – 2 places my son wants to go to college) and in May of 2015, the City of Boulder was added to the list due to the efforts of Bee Safe Boulder. Not to be outdone, the city of Lafayette, CO, just down the road from Boulder also made a similar resolution. And just last week, the Longmont City Council (my town!) approved a $25,000 study designed to test organic weed management techniques on city property. Things are definitely moving in the right direction!
I went to the workshop last night to help jump start my efforts. It’s great to see the excitement. I met one woman who teaches kids about native bees and came all the way from south Denver to see what this was all about. I also met one of the women who worked on getting the Longmont city changes in motion and asked her to add me to their group. Time for me to get my butt out there and make my neighborhood safe for my bees! All it takes is one yard doused with poisons to kill a whole hive. So far (with help from a neighbor), I have 28 of the 939 yards in my neighborhood pledged to be neonic free. I have a ways to go, but it’s a good start!
This isn’t limited to Boulder or Colorado. There are Bee Safe Neighborhoods in Michigan and Virginia already. You can do this in your own neighborhood. The Living Systems Institute and Bee Safe Boulder websites have information and materials on how you can do this in your own backyard. You can pledge on line for your own yard if you want and show up as a happy bee on the map. What are you waiting for? Stop using poisons and get your neighbors to do the same! Let’s make this a Bee Safe Universe!