ANN ARBOR, MI — There is a movement afoot in Ann Arbor to promote bee-friendly neighborhoods, and it’s starting in the Old West Side.
Eileen Dickinson and Rita Mitchell have been going door to door, getting several of their neighbors in the Wurster Park area to sign pledges committing to making their yards safe havens for bees and other pollinators.
Most importantly, that means no using chemical products such as pesticides and herbicides that are toxic to pollinators.
“We are garnering pledges from neighbors to not use pesticides, herbicides or fungicides in their yard, so that we can have a pollinator-safe haven in our neighborhood,” Dickinson said. “We’re trying to get 75 contiguous properties.”
The grassroots Bee Safe Neighborhoods campaign is a local response to national concerns that U.S. honey bee populations are believed to be declining at an annual rate of 30 percent or more.Campaign representatives are planning to be at the Mayor’s Green Fair from 6-9 p.m. tonight, June 10, in downtown Ann Arbor to promote their pro-pollinator cause.
“I think we have a community that’s very conscientious about the environment and educated about food,” said Dickinson, who keeps bees on her property on Fourth Street and has worked to create a pollinator-friendly yard.
“There are a lot of foodies here who would be very disappointed if they couldn’t have good food as a result of no pollination.”
The campaign picked up support at this week’s City Council meeting as Mayor Christopher Taylor read a proclamation in honor of National Pollinator Week, which is June 15-21, and the City Council passed a resolution.
Taylor noted pollinators such as birds, bats and insects provide significant environmental benefits that are necessary for maintaining healthy, biodiverse ecosystems, and are essential in producing much of our food supply.
“Pollination plays a vital role for the trees and plants of our community, enhancing our quality of life, and creating recreational and economic development opportunities,” Taylor said, reading the proclamation.
Taylor said the city supports participation in the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, a public-private partnership endeavoring to increase pollinator awareness and promote pollinator-friendly practices.
As he pledged the city’s support for creating pollinator-friendly habitats, he called on residents to join him in recognizing the importance of pollinators.
Dickinson said residents can pledge to join the cause and do their part at different levels — whatever they’re comfortable doing.
“So, they can refrain from using lawn and garden products that contain neonicotinoids — you may have heard of those as being particularly harmful to honey bees — and any other systemic herbicide or pesticide that gets into the plant. It shows up in the pollen and nectar that the pollinators forage on,” she said. “The next level is not using any outdoor products containing any level of poison, such as fungicides and herbicides.
“And then if people aren’t using products, they can pledge to plant forage for pollinators, including on their lawn extensions. And I would like the city to be generous in refraining from ticketing people who are planting bee forage.”
Those who are on board with the campaign are encouraged to educate their friends and family members about how to create pollinator-friendly yards.
Be Safe Neighborhoods also will be at the upcoming Wurster Park Children’s Festival and at the Farmer’s Market during National Pollinator Week.
The City Council unanimously approved a resolution seeking to designate Ann Arbor as a Bee City USA community under a national program started in Asheville, North Carolina. As part of the program, the city intends to commit to celebrating National Pollinator Week each year; publicly acknowledging the city’s commitment through educational events, publicizing it on the city’s website and recognizing it on a street sign; and designating the Environmental Commission and city staff to coordinate and prepare educational events and materials to enhance pollinator awareness and the health and habitat of bees.
“Thanks to the tremendous diversity of honey and native bees and other pollinators, we have very diverse dietary choices rich in fruits, nuts and vegetables,” the City Council resolution states. “Honey and native bees and other pollinators around the globe have experienced dramatic declines due to a combination of habitat loss, use of pesticides and the spread of pests and diseases, with grave implications for the future health of flora and fauna.”
According to the resolution, an ideal pollinator-friendly habitat:
- Provides diverse and abundant nectar and pollen from plants blooming in succession.
- Provides clean water for drinking, nest-building, cooling, diluting stored honey, and butterfly puddling.
- Is pesticide-free or has pesticide use carried out with least ill effects on pollinators.
- Is comprised of mostly, if not all, native species of annual and perennial wildflowers, shrubs, trees and grasses because many native pollinators prefer or depend on the native plants with which they co-evolved.
- Includes, where possible, designated pollinator zones in public spaces with signage to educate the public and build awareness.
- Provides for safe and humane removal of bees when required.
- Provides undisturbed spaces (leaf and brush piles, un-mowed fields or field margins, fallen trees and other dead wood) for nesting and overwintering for native pollinators.
The city will be required to submit a report of the previous year’s activities to renew the Bee City USA designation annually.
Slow Food Huron Valley provided grant funds to get the Bee Safe Neighborhoods campaign started in Ann Arbor.
Dickinson said another reason why Ann Arbor needs bee-safe neighborhoods is because there is a rise in urban beekeeping. She said she knows of at least five beekeepers in just the Old West Side alone.
“We’d actually like to create a competition between various neighborhoods in the city,” Dickinson said of the Be Safe Neighborhoods campaign’s next steps.
“We were thinking of maybe Wurster Park and Water Hill or maybe the River District and Water Hill. We think we can generate a lot of enthusiasm for this.”
Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, shared some of her own thoughts as the City Council approved the Bee City USA resolution.
She said it’s important to recognize the relationship between what people grow and what products they use and the impact on insects and small animals.
“Part of what makes Bee City USA as important an effort as it is, is that while it focuses on bees, it doesn’t limit itself to honey bees,” she said. “It instead encourages people to promote habitats for bees and other pollinators.
“Some of us are allergic to bee stings, yet we recognize that we can’t enjoy cherries or roses or peonies or peas without pollinators.”
There are 21 other Bee City USA communities across the country, including the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.
David Borneman of Ann Arbor’s Natural Area Preservation program will be designated as the city’s lead staff person for Bee City USA efforts.
“He has indicated that we do a lot of the stuff that is required already, so most of the work is documenting better what we’re already doing,” said Tom Crawford, interim city administrator, adding it shouldn’t require additional resources.
But city officials are hoping some of the increased outreach efforts will convince more residents to do their part on their own properties.
Ryan Stanton covers the city beat for The Ann Arbor News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.