AP NEWS

Longmont Turning Attention to Pollinator Protection, Proliferation with Wildlife Plan Update

April 5, 2019

When spring arrives, Highland Honey owner and Longmont beekeeper Tim Brod gets a lot of calls from people wanting to buy a queen and start their own backyard hive.

The advice he has for a lot of people: Forget about hosting bees on your property. But he doesn’t mean don’t be a beekeeper.

Instead, he suggests people expand their ideas of what it means to be beekeepers to include less direct, but no less important actions, such as making changes in their lives and homes to support pollinator habitat, for example converting grass to native flowering plants.

Brod was one of a couple dozen attendees at a meeting Thursday hosted by Longmont to gather resident feedback as they start updating the city’s Wildlife Management Plan, which was adopted in 2006.

Since then, city council in 2017 adopted a resolution declaring Longmont a “pollinator friendly” municipality. Leaders are trying to follow through on that by making recommendations to support the preservation and proliferation of pollinator habitat in the updated plan.

In some ways, Longmont has already started. Since 2015 it has not used neonicotinoid insecticides that harm bees, according to David Bell, natural resources manager for the city.

“People are really attracted to the idea of keeping bees,” Brod said, calling the insects “an icon of sustainability.”

But even experts like him are having a hard time keeping their black and yellow friends alive, he admits, calling bees across the world “weakened and distressed,” as myriad research confirms. He suggests only the people who are serious enough about beekeeping to pour time into researching it and working at it actually try hosting colonies.

“We want to turn everyone into a beekeeper,” Brod said, explaining people have different entry points for earning the title.

For some, that could be tending a hive, while for city governments it could be adopting land use and development policies that encourage planting pollinator habitat, and for farmers it could be reestablishing patches of natural habitat on non-cultivating plots near cropland.

A 2017 Boulder County Pollinator Habitat Conservation Activity plan lays out several practices that could be used on open space properties and elsewhere to protect bees and other pollinators, including one called solar solarization, a form of weed control that heats soil through a greenhouse effect to kill unwanted plants.

But threats to bees remain: Monocultures of vegetation created by agriculture, the insistent planting of turfy grasses as lawns, the cutting of alfalfa before it flowers to preserve its protein content, and the area’s growing population and associated increasing encroachment of development into nature.

Longmont has committed to leaving dead and downed wood in place where possible, a practice a 2017 Boulder County study noted had strong benefits for bee populations along the St. Vrain Creek.

“In general, wood management (meaning wood removal) led to a reduction in both woody debris and overall bee abundance,” the county study stated. “Interestingly this appeared driven primarily by other types of bees, which nested in soil or other areas and not specifically by cavity-nesting bees as we predicted. This was also evident from the positive relationship between woody debris and overall bee abundance and other bee abundance.”

The study also noted that more than 70 percent of Boulder County’s native bee species — there are more than 500, according to a county presentation — are soil-nesting, colonies of which were certainly impacted by the 2013 flood.

But the disaster along the St. Vrain more than five years ago also might have had some positive consequences for the diversity of bee habitat, the study found.

“However, such disturbance created a number of habitats which could benefit a number of specialized native bees, including exposed sand bars, scours of bare ground, and vertical banks,” the study stated. “We noted several such vertical banks along head cuts at Western Mobile and Keyes (open space properties), both of which contained nesting aggregations of digger bees, masked bees, mining bees, and sweat bees. Attention to protecting or enhancing these nesting habitats could prove particularly valuable in managing these specialized ground-nesting species.”

For the updated Longmont Wildlife Management Plan, which leaders hope to have in front of city council for potential approval in July, the feasibility of converting turfy grasses in city parks and public rights-of-way to “pollinator gardens,” or landscapes with native seeds that sprout flowering vegetation, also will be evaluated.

“In 2005-06 when we did the Wildlife Management Plan, we didn’t have that (pollinator-friendly) resolution from council,” Longmont Land Program Administrator Dan Wolford said. “Those are things that are going to be included.”

Bell, the city’s natural resources manager, hopes that along with examining how converting certain areas of parks from turfy grasses to native seeds can benefit pollinators, the update also will analyze how to get residents to inform the city about where on their properties they have planted pollinator- friendly plots. The goal of that would be to allow leaders to more closely track the overall access bees have to flowering vegetation, rather than that just on public lands.

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com and twitter.com/samlounz .