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Bees on echinacea bloom

In recent years, honeybees have gotten much unfortunate attention as their numbers shrink due to destroyed habitats, pesticide use, malnutrition, and other causes. Honeybees are agricultural heroes that pollinate fruits and vegetables, in addition to producing a delicious natural sweetener. They aren’t native to North America, however, while the lesser-known bumblebee has been a keystone species in our ecosystem for thousands of years.

Bumblebees are very effective pollinators due to their size and speed. They can carry heavy loads (allowing for long foraging trips) and visit twice as many flowers per minute as honeybees. They use their body’s vibration, a behavior known as “buzz pollination,” to spread the pollen of wildflowers, nightshades, and berry shrubs.

Habitat loss is a major threat to pollinators, but fortunately, the Wood River Valley has lots of natural bee habitat. Chemical pesticides, like the ever-popular Roundup, are another major threat since they are used liberally on many lawns and public areas. Thankfully, numerous local and national organizations and individuals are working to protect these creatures so critical to the food we eat.

We can all help protect native pollinators by hand-weeding our lawns, or, better yet, letting the dandelions grow! Dandelions are a pollinator’s first food each spring, and their leaves offer nutritious salad greens. Planting flowers that bloom throughout the seasons also helps create a stable foraging system. Native plants (yarrow, lupine, sunflowers) and flowering shrubs (elderberry, raspberry, and snowberry) are important pollinator-friendly additions to any garden.

To learn more, attend the Sun Valley Center for the Arts panel discussion, What Is the Threat?, on April 24. A panel member, Ross Winton of the PNW Bumble Bee Project, is working to engage citizen scientists with data gathering for native species. Learn about gathering data here.

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