The rapid decline of bee populations in North America not only reflects a changing climate and reduces our chance of being stung — it has an impact on our food supply.
As officials at Clark College work to establish the Vancouver college as a Bee Campus, we are reminded of the vast role that bees play in our ecosystem — pollinating not only wildflowers but fruits and vegetables. Along with other pollinators such as butterflies and bats, they do more than add splendor and wonder to our environs.
“One out of every three bites of food that we eat” is directly connected to a pollinator, Ron Magill of Zoo Miami told CNN last year. According to the Food and Drug Administration, bees are responsible for pollinating approximately 90 percent of commercially produced crops.
That adds up. Research at The Ohio State University finds that honey bees alone provide pollination worth more than $15 billion annually in the United States. As the university reports: “Without the help of bees, the world would be without such well-loved foods as chocolate, coffee, peaches, almonds, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, apples, pumpkins, melons, vanilla and many other fruits, nuts and vegetables.”
But beginning in 2006, experts noted significant yearly declines in honey bee colonies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the causes include pests, disease, pesticides, pollutants and habitat loss.
The federal government has programs to support bee health and habitat, recognizing their importance to the environment. But there are numerous different types of bees that require varying habitats.
That is the impetus behind the program at Clark College, where officials have launched an attempt to earn Bee Campus status — an accreditation that reflects an institution’s dedication to creating and conserving native bee habitats.
As reporter Lauren Ellenbecker writes: “Native bees are typically solitary creatures. They find solace in hollow reeds, trees and soil instead of a hive densely populated with a colony, which also means they don’t produce honey or wax. Still, their presence is sweet and significant in the ecosystem, making the insects indispensable.”
College officials are creating sectioned-off habitats for wildflowers and other plants that will be attractive to the bees — along with butterflies, moths and birds who feast on the insects.
“The built environment doesn’t need to be exclusive of nature,” biology professor Steve Clark said. “Wildlife can and should live with us.”
That is the point behind growing efforts to develop and preserve habitat. And it is the point behind increasing awareness of the importance of bees. Bees not only pollinate plants that humans eat; the fruits of the labor also are eaten by chickens and pigs. Yes, those pork chops you had for dinner last night are dependent upon bees.
“It’s all so intricately connected, whether you’re eating the food that is directly pollinated or you’re eating something that depends on that pollinator,” one expert told CNN. “It’s a domino effect.”
That effect can also be seen in butterflies. Scientists at the International Union for Conservation of Nature last year added the monarch butterfly to its “red list” of endangered species, reporting that, “Climate change has significantly impacted the migratory monarch butterfly and is a fast-growing threat.”
Efforts at Clark College cannot reverse that threat. But anything that promotes bee habitat plays a role in protecting our ecosystem.