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Efforts To Help Bumblebees

Sept. 19, 2013 | OPB
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Toni Tabora-Roberts

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  • Xerces Society biologist Rich Hatfield surveys an alpine meadow in the Mount Hood National Forest earlier this summer. Hatfield has uncovered what may be Oregon’s westernmost stronghold of the rare western bumblebee. credit: Michael Durham/Oregon Zoo
  • With the help of a laser-triggered shutter and a flash that fires at 1/50,000th of a second, Oregon Zoo photographer Michael Durham captured what is believed to be the first high-speed photo of the rare western bumblebee in flight. credit: Michael Durham/Oregon Zoo
Xerces Society biologist Rich Hatfield surveys an alpine meadow in the Mount Hood National Forest earlier this summer. Hatfield has uncovered what may be Oregon’s westernmost stronghold of the rare western bumblebee. | credit: Michael Durham/Oregon Zoo | rollover image for more

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News came out this week that the rare western bumblebee was rediscovered in Mount Hood National Forest. I spoke to Rich Hatfield, the Xerces Society biologist who did the six week forest survey this summer which was made possible by the Oregon Zoo Foundation’s Future for Wildlife program.

The goal of the survey was two-fold:

  • Find what Hatfield called ‘remnant populations’ of the western bumblebee, which was once one of the most common bees in the west.
  • Document the area’s species of bumblebees.

While he wasn’t completely surprised to find the western bumblebee during his survey, he was pleased to find a few different populations in new localities.

“The western bumblebee is a red flag. Their disappearance is not a natural process. But the thing that gives me hope is that if their disappearance is caused by people, maybe we can do something to reduce or reverse it, ” said Hatfield.

The Xerces Society has a guide for those who want to create habitat attractive to bumblebees. (The quick and dirty: native flowers are good, pesticides are not.)

While folks at home can do their part to help with bee conservation, officials are also charged with doing their part to help out.

The Interagency Special Status /Sensitive Species Program (ISSSSP) of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, helps coordinate consideration of rare species as part of lands management. As noted on their website, ISSSSP’s approaches are for “species that meet agency criteria for inclusion on sensitive and special status lists. This includes those species that are not federally listed as Threatened or Endangered, or Proposed for federal listing.”

The western bumblebee is on the ISSSSP special status list as ‘sensitive’ for Oregon, says Hatfield. Franklin’s bumblebee — a southern Oregon, northern California bee that is possibly already extinct — is also listed. That means if land use issues come up in those specified regions, the bumblebees (and any other listed species) must be considered.

Hatfield was able to document 12 bumblebee species at the forest. But one bee he didn’t see much of gives him cause for some concern: the sitka bumblebee.

“We are concerned because, based on a long-term database (dating back to the 1800s), over the last 10 years this species seems to be experiencing a bit of a range contraction and a significant decrease in relative abundance when compared to its historical relative abundance,” notes Hatfield.

The summer survey corroborated this decrease in relative abundance. “It is the 4th most abundant species in the historical database, but was the 10th most abundant in our surveys,” says Hatfield.

Hatfield also told me about a new project Xerces Society will be launching to help the plight of bumblebees. The Bumble Bee Watch will be a citizen science effort to document sightings of bumblebees across North America.

On a related note, we posted a story recently of another citizen science bumblebee effort, this one in Washington, involving tomato plants and tuning forks. Check out the video below.

— Toni Tabora-Roberts

© 2013 OPB
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