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City Council members work to make Bellingham a friendlier city for native pollinators

A honey bee on a flower. Earlier this year, Bellingham took steps to become more friendly for bees, one of the more well-known pollinators in ecosystems. // Courtesy of Brian Evans via Flickr

By Riley Young

On Sept. 28, 2020, Bellingham City Council voted to become a Bee City USA sponsor to help preserve pollinator species throughout the city. 

City Council’s resolution marks Bellingham’s first step in becoming a friendlier environment for pollinators. The resolutions include providing more habitat for pollinators in the private and public sectors in the city. 

Bee City USA, a nonprofit, raises awareness of how cities around the world create hostile environments for pollinators. According to their website, up to 40% of pollinator species are at risk of extinction due to habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change.  

According to the Bee City USA website, 43 states and 124 cities in the country are affiliates to this program.  

Bellingham’s City Council voted 6-1 to pass the resolution. The city’s initiative limited the use of pesticides used in the city and promised the expansion of public and private habitats for Bellingham’s native pollinators. 

Clare Fogelsong, environmental policy manager for natural resources at the City of Bellingham, said there is plenty of work to be done.

“We're hoping to … reach out to the communities that advocated for our participation in this program,” Fogelsong said. “Hopefully engage their services reaching out to the private sector, garden clubs and the keepers and others that have a stake in this issue and gain their participation in the program on a site-by-site basis.” 

Fogelsong said he hopes this initiative helps bring awareness to the community to help preserve bees and other pollinators in Bellingham. 

Chris Harrington, the founder of the Bellingham-based environmental conservation organization Bee a Good Citizen, has previously worked to make Western Washington University a bee-friendly habitat. 

“We went as far as to get the entire campus certified as a bee-safe campus with 100% agreement from every department involved,” Harrington said. 

Harrington set up a Viking Fund through the university to raise money for The Outback farm. The fund raised $40,000 to buy beekeeping equipment.

In 2020, Harrington approached Mayor Seth Fleetwood with his idea for the city to take a bee initiative like the university. Harrington said the mayor loved the Bee City plan and wanted to make it real. 

Patrick Tobin, an entomologist and associate professor at the University of Washington, said climate change is increased within urban settings, making it difficult for pollinators to survive. 

“They actually are very, very sensitive to warming temperatures, very sensitive,” Tobin said. “To me, that's always been urbanization.”

Tobin said the misconceptions people have about insects’ tolerance to climate change is not what they think. Many people believe that insects can adapt to warmer climates. 

Instead, he explained that climate change in a city includes a lack of natural resources and rising temperatures that hurt pollinator populations.

Bellingham beekeeper Michael Jaross has cared for bees for 16 years. The solution to saving bees is not more beekeepers, Jaross said, just thoughtful gardening. Jaross suggested people can create a habitat in their backyards. 

“You can support bees and other native pollinators by planting the friendly flowers and trees, which almost everybody can do without failing at all,” Jaross said. “It hardly costs anything.” 

Jaross said home gardens are one of the most effective ways people can create a stable environment for native pollinators. The USDA recommends people to plant a variety of nectar-rich wildflowers that bloom from early springs to late fall that are native to the region. 

“These gardens are the ideal environment to help support our native species of pollinators,” Jaross said.

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