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Building Resilient Communities: Reflecting on a Year of Challenge and Opportunity for Bee City USA & Bee Campus USA

By Molly Martin, Bee City USA Coordinator

I walked through the oak woodland slowly, making a mental note of flowering species: Amsinckia menziesii, Lupinus albifrons, Vicia sativa. While the trees themselves were blackened by fire, a lush carpet of wildflowers obscured the charred ground. Over the course of the next two hours I would return to each flowering plant, carefully recording the species, and then waiting patiently for a bee to come visit. After a full day of visiting sites spread throughout the valley, repeating a protocol that brought an element of walking meditation to scientific research, I would return to the lab, plant and bee specimens in hand, to meticulously preserve, label, and sort specimens, and record the interactions I had discovered between bees and plants. This exercise, carried out weekly for many months, was an effort to untangle the mysteries behind how the intricate webs of interaction between bees and flowers respond to disturbance, in this case catastrophic wildfires that raged through northern California the previous year. 

While years have passed since I completed my graduate work, I often return to the concept of ecological community interactions and their ability to withstand and recover from disturbance, particularly in my current work supporting urban and suburban communities in their pollinator conservation efforts. Disturbance is perhaps one of the few constants in every life, whether you’re a bee, plant, person, or even a soil microbe. In urban ecology, we often talk about the ways in which human actions have caused disturbance for natural systems: prairie turned to pavement, chemical pesticides, climate change. While we’ve seen many species decimated by these disturbances, we’ve also watched ecological communities adapt and recover when given the chance. For example, introducing a matrix of natural habitat pockets throughout an urban core can turn a pollinator desert into an environment supporting varied six-legged, flying critters in only a matter of years. 

In 2020 our human communities experienced one of the most substantial and widespread disturbances of our lifetimes in the form of COVID-19. Elements that had been integral to our lives were suddenly removed and we were forced to reimagine our lives without them: dinner with friends, hugs, and for many the existence of a loved one. During the many dark months of sweat pant-clad, solitary work in my guest-room-turned-office, I found comfort thinking back to those invisible webs of plants and pollinators that I studied in the charred woodlands of northern California. Not only had the communities recovered, but they had actually become stronger as a result. 

This past month I completed one of my favorite work tasks of the year: reading the reports that the Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA communities that I work with submit on their accomplishments from the previous year. What I found within the reports was striking. It was a textbook example of resilience. Rather than canceling projects and activities, the committees adapted to the new conditions, finding ways to continue creating spaces for our ecological communities to do the same. The Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA community is a wonderful reminder of the resilience of our communities, both human and non-human, and our ability to recover, adapt, and thrive as an interconnected web. 

“The garden has been a source of comfort and mental health for a lot of people during COVID. There are few things we can do safely with other people during a pandemic, thankfully gardening is one of them.” – Decatur, Georgia

“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.” – University of Utah, Salt Lake City

A snapshot of 2020 for Bee City USA & Bee Campus USA:

This snapshot and the gallery of images that follows show activities and projects taken on by Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates in 2020—but they only scratch the surface of all the great work that took place throughout the year. Visit the 2020 renewal reports page to continue reading stories of conservation, creativity, community building, and resilience.

  • In 2020, 23 cities and 16 campuses committed to protect pollinators in their communities through becoming affiliates of Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA. We ended the year with 242 communities in 43 states.
  • Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates collectively completed 764 projects to create and enhance habitat for pollinators, totaling over 450 acres.
  • Affiliates engaged a variety of approaches to reduce pesticide use and use integrated pest management to improve habitat for pollinators. Actions included implementing an integrated pest management plan, avoiding use of pesticides in designated pollinator habitat and other sensitive sites, and restricting pesticides used to organic pesticides.
  • Approximately 58,000 people were engaged in pollinator conservation by Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates in 2020. People were engaged through community events, volunteer activities, habitat projects, training courses, continuing education, and service learning. A total of around 800 events, the majority of which were virtual, were hosted by affiliates in 2020.
Howard County, Maryland, encouraged residents to create pollinator habitat at home by developing and distributing six Native Plant Pollinator Garden Design Templates for varying site conditions. The templates included a list of local native-plant suppliers that were accessible during the pandemic. Residents were encouraged to register their habitat to help track the amount of habitat created through Howard County’s Bee City USA efforts.
In Vermont, Burlington’s Bee City USA committee collaborated with a group of active pollinator advocacy stakeholders to form an umbrella partnership named Grow Wild. Inspired by E.O. Wilson’s Half-Earth theory, the partnership aims to enlist public involvement and decision-making in regard to pollinator health and habitat in all of Burlington’s public spaces.
Decatur, Georgia, Bee City USA members Claudia McDavid and Therese May met with the city’s Environmental Sustainability Board via Zoom to discuss the problem of widespread residential mosquito control spraying throughout Decatur. Out of this meeting stemmed a broad-based initiative to help educate city residents about the dangers posed by pesticides used in mosquito control to bees and other pollinators. Decatur’s Bee City USA website now features a comprehensive collection of information related to mosquito spraying and how to reduce impacts on other species. (Photo: Peter Helfrich.)
In Hendersonville, North Carolina, the 3.5-mile-long Oklawaha Greenway winds through wetlands, meadows, and forests to connect four parks. The greenway already included several trailside pocket meadows and a 2.3-acre pollinator meadow, but in 2020, this was expanded to include an additional 4.7-acre tract of pollinator habitat. View this StoryMap created by the City of Hendersonville to learn more about the project.
In March, Asheville, North Carolina, joined a number of other affiliates who have developed their own local pollinator garden certification program. Asheville’s initiative has four tiers of habitat quality based primarily on the species diversity of the garden. The intent of the program is two-fold: educate the community about the necessary components of a functional pollinator habitat, and inspire people to create or enhance their garden in order to qualify. By the end of 2020, Asheville had already certified 50 gardens! (Photo: Ruth Gonzales.)
The University of California, Davis’ Bee Campus USA committee offered programming around safely interacting with nature by using iNaturalist as a community science tool to help community members get outside and learn about pollinators during the pandemic. The committee also read aloud pollinator-themed children’s books on video and posted them to YouTube, including Bees are the Best, If Hummingbirds Could Hum, and Señorita Mariposa. (Images: Bee Campus USA – University of California Davis.)
With COVID-19 severely limiting the scope of in-person activities, the University of Arkansas took a more direct approach to conservation activities through larger scale projects. One in particular is an oak savanna restoration. The goal is to restore and enhance the ecosystem services on this 10-acre site while creating an amenity for the community. The restoration plan includes dismantling existing structures, control of invasive species, and removal of 2,500 feet of chain-link and barbed-wire fence. It also involved a prescribed burn to improve biodiversity on the site, an event that was used as a real-life learning laboratory for landscape architecture students to see how such a controlled burn is carried out. Oak savanna provides valuable habitat for pollinators and burning can create better conditions for native wildflowers to thrive. (Photo: Bee Campus USA – University of Arkansas.)
Students at the University of Vermont conducted research exploring how to best integrate solar energy facilities, pollinator and bird habitats, and grazing and crop production within Vermont’s landscapes. (Photo: Bee Campus USA – University of Vermont.)
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Bee City USA committee in Davidson, North Carolina, got creative. They developed Nature WOW-NOW Kits, a “to-go” form of nature and science-based activity kits for kids. The kits included fun outdoor craft materials and science activities including information about pollinators. The kits were distributed to 60 children at Ada Jenkins Center, which aids in education of children from low-income families, and summer interns from Davidson College provided remote instruction to guide the children in using their kits. (Photo: Bee City USA – Davidson.)
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Bee City USA committee hosted 16 virtual events throughout the year, ranging from talks about wild bees of New Mexico, DIY integrated pest management workshops, pollinator-related arts and crafts activities for kids, a tour of Albuquerque’s botanical garden, and a photo competition. (Photos: Bee City USA – Albuquerque.)
For the first time, the Bee City USA committee in Hendersonville, North Carolina, provided funds for local classrooms and youth organizations to participate in the Symbolic Monarch Migration program, in which children from across the United States and Canada create paper butterflies to send to Mexico for the winter. These symbolic butterflies’ journey is timed to correspond with the living monarchs’ actual fall migration. As the real-life monarchs arrived, the symbolic butterflies were delivered to schools in the monarch sanctuary region of Mexico. In March, after the living monarchs’ departure from overwintering sites, groups of paper butterflies returned north to Henderson County, carrying special messages from the students in Mexico. United by the monarch butterfly, children across North America learn authentic lessons of conservation, cooperation, and ambassadorship.
Bee City USA affiliate, Burlington, Vermont, joined forces with Bee Campus USA affiliate, University of Vermont, to create shared project areas which have taken shape as pollinator corridors extending the mile from the UVM Campus into the downtown and waterfront of Burlington.
Tufts University’s Bee Campus USA committee hosted a number of virtual trivia nights including topics ranging from scientific facts to pop culture. Half-time games included identifying bees from a range of insects. (Image: Bee Campus USA – Tufts University.)
Berea College’s pollinator week included a virtual Bioblitz competition that challenged visitors to utilize the iNaturalist app to identify tree species in the Berea College Forest by taking photos of leaves, bark buds, fruit, and nuts. (Image: John Abrams)
Bee Campus USA affiliate, the University of Michigan Dearborn, initiated the PolliNation Project, a campus- and community-wide initiative to build insect hotels in order to promote pollinator awareness and conservation. Design teams from the computer science department were recruited to create two apps for the PolliNation Project. The first is a Pollinator ID app that allows users to identify visitors to insect hotels using photos processed by AI. The second app maintains an online database and map featuring insect hotel locations and construction designs, along with information about local landscape features, including type of habitat, plant species inventories, and types of pollinators observed on site. (Image: Bee Campus USA – University of Michigan Dearborn.)
A team of staff and volunteers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign ran a number of social media campaigns through the year. These included March’s “Mulch Madness,” in which participants filled out brackets of native plants and flowers based on which species they thought would receive the most likes when facts and pictures of them were posted on social media each day throughout the month. In addition to Mulch Madness, social media postings included seasonal highlight series for various native plant species to promote education and awareness. These campaigns reached several thousand people on Facebook and Twitter. An interactive map showing the locations of the 30 Pollinator Pockets on campus was also created and distributed, providing accessibility and education for anyone interested.
Pollinator habitat on the University of Vermont campus benefited the student population in addition to the pollinator population! Art students enjoyed drawing plants in the pollinator garden outside the Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources. (Photo: Bee Campus USA – University of Vermont.)
In Eugene, Oregon, Bee City USA committee members got together for socially distanced work parties to remove weeds from what they refer to as their “pollinator jungle”. (Photo: Bee City USA – Eugene.)
Bee City USA – Barrington Hills, Illinois, cleared an area around a parking lot to create a prairie patch. As they cleared the area they made sure to save existing native plants, including milkweed, the caterpillar host plant for monarch butterflies.
At Randolph College, in Lynchburg, Virginia, a new pollinator garden was created and custom signs were designed and installed to educate visitors about the importance of the garden to pollinators. (Photo: Randolph College Bee Campus USA.)
Kate Patton, co-chair of Bee City USA – Berlin, Maryland, worked with members of the city’s Parks Commission to maintain existing pollinator plantings in town throughout the year. (Photo: Kate Patton.)
In Pennsylvania, Susquehanna University’s annual wildflower plantings across campus provide beauty and a source of food for pollinators. One of the plantings, located behind the Admissions House, provides a great opportunity to teach visitors about pollinators. (Photo: Bee Campus USA – Susquehanna University.)
In Lynchburg, Virginia, students at Randolph College completed a germination study of native and naturalized plant species to assist in pollinator habitat enhancement on campus. In this photo, Jdody Misidor ’20, measures plants as a part of the study. (Photo: Bee Campus USA – Randolph College.)

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