Guest blog by Amy Sibul, Faculty in the School of Biological Sciences, Faculty Advisor to the University of Utah Beekeepers Association, Bee Campus USA – University of Utah Committee Chair
The University of Utah is not only located within the Beehive State, but is also located in a global bee biodiversity hotspot. The southwestern quadrant of the U.S. supports incredible bee species richness, and Utah alone has an estimated 1,100+ species of bees, more than the entire landmass east of the Mississippi River. It seemed only natural that the University of Utah would have students, staff, and faculty interested in supporting bee conservation through a Bee Campus USA designation, which was awarded by the Xerces Society in December 2020.
The genesis of the idea was a conversation that took place in 2018 between the University of Utah Beekeepers’ Association, a student-led organization founded in 2012, and the University’s Office of Sustainability. By then, several efforts had already been spearheaded by the Beekeepers’ Association, both on and off campus, to raise awareness about bees and pollinator conservation.
In 2012 and 2013, the Beekeepers’ Association installed honey bee hives in several campus locations, and since then have used these hives as a gateway to talk broadly about the importance of bees (all bees, not just honey bees) to the community both on and off campus. We have worked for the last 8 years to provide regular opportunities for bee conservation-centered education and outreach including bringing guest lecturers to campus, hosting visiting groups for bee talks and hive tours, carrying out solitary bee nest box building events, and visiting elementary school classrooms and museums to talk about bee biodiversity and pollination. We also partner with a local nonprofit organization, The Hollow Tree Honey Foundation, to host pollinator awareness events for the broader public throughout Salt Lake City, and beyond.
In 2018, the U of U Beekeepers’ Association also led an effort to plan, fund, and install the first “Pollinator Conservation Garden” on the University of Utah campus. We collaborated with the College of Architecture and the University’s Open Space Manager to transform a large swath of lawn (a bee food desert!) into a haven for all pollinators. It is now a beautiful, expansive space with a large diversity of bee-friendly plants, primarily plants native to the Western U.S., and includes multiple rock wall features and bare soil patches that provide nesting habitat for bees. This spring we also installed observation nest boxes for cavity nesting bees at this garden and two organic campus vegetable gardens. The Pollinator Conservation Garden serves as a living lab for students to monitor the impacts of the garden on pollinator diversity and abundance. Since the garden’s installation, students from multiple biology classes have conducted bee surveys in the space, using the Xerces Society’s Streamlined Bee Monitoring Protocols.
One of the most special characteristics of the University of Utah campus is that it includes the largest botanical garden and arboretum in the Intermountain West: the 100-acre Red Butte Garden. During a 2012 bee survey of the garden by Professor Joseph Wilson (entomologist with Utah State University, and co-author of The Bees in Your Backyard), 132 native bee species were found to be present. The garden’s horticulturalists prioritize a rich diversity of plants that bloom throughout the growing season and constantly add new species and cultivars. Red Butte Garden is currently developing a two-part class about providing early spring food sources for bees as well as ways to winterize gardens with native insects in mind. Throughout the garden there are native bee nest boxes, and an “insect hotel,” concentrated in the Children’s Garden. Themed garden beds focused on “our pollen-neighbors” will be installed during the summer of 2021. These garden beds will include informational signage on bees (among other pollinators) and will tie back to the garden’s website, which will provide an abundance of additional information.
With our robust existing commitment to pollinators, and especially bee conservation, it was an easy task to form a University of Utah Bee Campus USA Committee in early 2020. The U of U Beekeepers’ Association served as the backbone of the committee, and additional members were recruited from the affiliated Red Butte Garden, Natural History Museum, Office of Sustainability, and Landscaping team. We did not let the pandemic hold us back and found that we could shift our work to online platforms and meeting spaces quite easily in order to discuss, collaborate, and complete our Bee Campus USA application. One of the things we’re most proud of is high student involvement on the University of Utah Bee Campus USA committee and throughout the application process. Students were responsible for successfully obtaining a grant from the University of Utah’s Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund to cover the application fee.
Being awarded the Bee Campus USA designation in late 2020 was a much needed bright spot in an incredibly difficult year! It gave all of us a boost of inspiration to not only continue our bee conservation work, but to expand it.
As of June 2021, we have started offering “Lifelong Learning” community classes, taught by the University of Utah Bee Campus USA Chair, Amy Sibul, focused on bee identification and habitat protection. These classes will continue being offered both summer and fall. U of U Beekeepers’ Association students are developing a website to highlight the Bee Campus USA efforts. The campus landscaping crew are planning even more pollinator-friendly spaces on campus, and continue to adhere to their IPM plan (which has been in place for years). Additionally, Red Butte Garden will continue to expand its “Pollen-neighborhood” initiative to increase awareness about the wonder of bees and why humans should protect them. We are looking forward to a productive year full of community outreach, student involvement, and bee habitat expansion on our University of Utah Bee Campus USA!