Opinion: Most People Aren’t Aware of Bee and Pollinator Importance

Phyllis Stiles
Guest Columnist
Asheville Citizen Times

We celebrated World Bee Day May 20 for the seventh time. The United Nations declared the first World Bee Day in 2018, recognizing the 20,000 species-strong bee genera as ambassadors for all pollinators. Two years earlier, they published their report on “Pollinators, Pollination, and Food Production” to policy makers worldwide. It sounded numerous alarms including this one: 40% of insect pollinator species are at risk of extinction. While the thought of losing those pollinators makes my head spin, that’s only because I know that nearly 90% of wild, flowering plant species and 75% of food crops need them to reproduce. Most people have some sense that honeybees are important for pollinating crops, but that’s where their awareness ends.

I was already in my mid-fifties when I discovered the significance of pollinators and pollination, the threats they face and their role in sustainability. Recognizing I wasn’t alone, in 2012 we started the Bee City USA program in Asheville. Time was running out to reverse their declines and the declines of the thousands of plant and animal species that rely on them for continued survival. Fortunately, awareness has grown significantly in 12 years and today there are 400 Bee City and Bee Campus affiliates in 47 states, all committed to galvanizing their communities to take active measures to conserve pollinators.

Here in Asheville we conduct outreach year-round but especially during June, when National Pollinator Week is celebrated. Our efforts to increase pollinator habitat by planting native plants and reducing pesticide use are targeted at all ages and we go to extraordinary lengths to mobilize individuals, organizations, and neighborhoods to action.

In Western North Carolina, apart from the ruby-throated hummingbird, all of our pollinators are insects — bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, wasps and flies. We’re on a mission to make these bugs beloved not only for the nutritious food they afford us, and the very ecosystems that sustain us (down to the plants that create the oxygen we breathe), but also for their beauty and fascinating lives.

Our Bee City USA-Asheville Pollination Celebration! month began June 1 with a four-part film festival at Pack Library followed by presentations, safaris, a night out with the moths, and a scavenger hunt for insect-pollinated foods at the North Asheville tailgate market.

On June 22, Warren Wilson College is co-sponsoring our “What A Bee Needs Summit” featuring the globally revered pollinator expert and author, Dr. Stephen Buchmann. Buchmann is a pollination ecologist specializing in buzz pollination and other native bee behaviors including nesting biology and mate selection. His recent research includes the chemical ecology of oil-producing flowers and their special bee pollinators, along with studying the brood cell microbiomes (bacteria, fungi) of solitary bees who need these microbial partners to remain healthy. Herbicides threaten their microbiomes. Buchmann is on the faculty of the departments of Entomology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and lives among the giant saguaro cacti in the Catalina Foothills. He’s authored 10 books (including “The Forgotten Pollinators” and “The Reason for Flowers”) along with over 200 peer-reviewed scientific publications. Buchmann is a frequent guest on NPR programs including “All Things Considered” and “Science Friday.”He enjoys the role of science adviser and a bee and plant wrangler for the BBC, National Geographic, and indie natural history documentary film producers, and joins field cinematography teams around the world. In fact, he was Chief Scientist for the 2013 Disneynature film “Wings of Life” narrated by Meryl Streep, the first event on Asheville’s Pollination Celebration! schedule this year. Buchmann’s most recent book is “What a Bee Knows” from Island Press published in March 2023. He’s writing a new book about the world’s earliest insect pollinators, known only from fossils, and the rise of flowering plants in the Cretaceous.

You’ve been warned. To see the full 12th annual Pollination Celebration! month schedule visit beecityasheville.org/pollination-celebration.