Western Bumble Bee, Bombus occidentalis
Our pollinators are struggling as habitat loss and other stressors reduce their populations around the world, and Northern California is not immune to these declines. The populations of four bumble bee species in particular have declined precipitously: the Crotch, Franklin’s, Suckley cuckoo and Western bumble bees. At one time, these bees were found over much of the state, but today these bumble bee populations persist in very few areas. The western bumble bee once was one of the most common bumble bee across its large range prior to the late-1990s, but in California is now found only in a few sites in the Sierra Nevada and the northern coast. Bees are essential to the fruit and nut growth of many of California’s important crops including tomatoes, peppers, melon, squash, cotton and almonds. In addition, the vast flower fields of native ecosystems—from Anza Borrego to the coastal slopes along Big Sur to the alpine meadows of the Sierra Nevada—all depend on pollinators to bloom, flower, and seed. These flower fields feed countless wildlife in the cycle of life as well as bringing joy to humans who trek hundreds of miles to see wildflower blooms.
These four species of bumble bee are primarily threatened by habitat loss, diseases and pesticides, with the looming threat of climate change adding to the mix. As the impacts to our normal rhythms of weather change the behavior of animals, changes in the blooming times of flowers is also happening, and small wildlife like bees struggle to survive.
For several years, Conservation Works' Bee Patches program has been planting resilient habitat with multi-season forage which can lessen the struggle of bees to survive. Our planting projects can be found in many communities, and we work with volunteers across our region to plant healthy habitat. We frequently join other groups who share the vision of a healthy planet where pollinators and people can thrive. Partnering helps leverage scarce resources to increase the impact in helping our pollinators. We recently have partnered with the Bee Bold Alliance, a project of the Thanksgiving Coffee Company, to add to our cumulative efforts. The Bee Bold Alliance movement started in Mendocino County, but is applicable everywhere and can spread beyond the confines of a single county. The Bee Bold Alliance is intended to help people wherever they are attract and sustain pollinators in their home gardens, and at their place of work through habitat restoration and creation. The Alliance is a network of conservationists and citizen scientists, gardeners and farmers, activists, artists, and educators who support pollinators, and those working to ensure their survival and well-being. We have joined them, and invite you to check them out, too. Everyone can make a difference through their actions, including the choices they make. We encourage you to be a part of making a difference, emphasizing our motto that small actions made cumulatively can make for big change.
Our habitat plantings also will nurture migrating Monarch butterflies, another pollinator species under threat and which passes annually from regions west of the Rocky Mountains through California to overwintering sites along the California coast. These habitat plantings will also support bird habitat since our North Coast is major resource for birds living in and traveling through California on the Pacific Flyway, a major migration route that spans from South America to Alaska.
The Bee Patches program is very active, and Conservation Works is generally planting habitat somewhere in the North Coast every year; we weclome calls from potential interested youth groups and/or land partners for participation in the program. Interested groups or partners may signup on the waiting list using the form below.
Healthy Bees, Healthy Planet is another outreach and environmental education program that presents workshops for land managers on ways to include hedgerows and other habitat strips and patches into agricultural operations to both improve pollination services as well as increase water infiltration, retard runoff, and use the natural filtering action of vegetated cover to remove excess nutrients, sediment and more before the runoff reaches our streams. We maintain a waiting list for the workshops for presentation when funding permits.
Lastly, Bee Buddies is an educational program for schools, where we provide free pollinator curicula to elementary school classrooms for ongoing incorporation in their science teaching. We maintain a waiting list for Bee Buddies for deploying the education kits and outreach when funding permits.