Friday, July 29, 2016

Five Easy Ways to Make Your Yard Bee-Friendly

Bees play an important role in all ecosystems and are key allies for gardeners and farmers. They are responsible for pollination, which is the transfer of pollen to other flowering plants. Once pollination takes place, seeds begin to develop. Bees are responsible for pollinating most of our food.  In fact, 30 to 35 percent of the world’s food crops, including almost all of the nuts, fruits and vegetables that we typically eat are dependent on bees for pollination. Bees provide anywhere from 16 to 29 billion dollars worth of agricultural services each year, free of charge!

Unfortunately, bee communities have been declining over the last century. Air pollution, habitat destruction, and the overuse of chemical pesticides on farms, gardens, and even front lawns are affecting the recent decline in bee populations across the country. 

But, you can help make a difference for local bee populations by making your yard bee-friendly! Follow the tips listed below, and you'll help ensure the long-term survival of bees in our region, the productivity of our farmland, and the security of our food system.

1.     Feed your bees the good stuff. Bees need food, which in their case means pollen and nectar. To provide them with a steady and varied food source from spring through fall, you can plant an assortment of different plants that thrive in different seasons. The Washington Native Plant Society has a list of plants native to our county. They have also compiled a list of local nurseries that sell plants native to Thurston County.

2.      Create a natural habitat. Commit to leaving a portion of your yard “wild,” allowing weeds and native plants to grow on their own. Just as one person’s trash is another’s treasure, in the case of weeds, many times a plant that is considered a pest to people is a great source of food or shelter for a bee.

3.      Keep your bees hydrated. Bees need access to water. If your yard has a birdbath, you can place a small piece of wood in the bath that will float and provide nearby bees with a safe landing spot to drink from. Replace the water regularly so the water stays clean and fresh for bees and other critters that visit the birdbath.

4.    Make your bees feel at home. Different bee species need different types of shelter. There are several ways to accommodate their needs. Leaving small patches of ground bare will attract ground-nesting bees that build their nests in the soil. Wood-nesting and cavity-nesting bees nest in the hollow cavities of plant stems will benefit from having access to plants such as bamboo, elderberry, or sumac. You can also hang bundles of dried, hollow sunflower stems, which cavity-nesting bees will happily nest in. Bumblebees will shelter in bunched grasses. If you are feeling crafty, you can even build a nest box to attract bumblebees.

5.   Say, ‘no thanks’ to toxic chemicals. Avoid chemical bug and weed killers, especially the group of chemicals called neonicotinoids. Clothianidin, Dinotefuran, Imidacloprid, and Thiamethoxam are the four types of neonicotinoids that are most toxic to bees and should not be used in bee-friendly landscapes.

Thank you for doing your part to conserve our native bees and pollinators! To learn more about native bees and pollinator conservation, check out the Xerces Society, the Washington Native Plant Society and Washington State University - Extension

Friday, July 22, 2016

Every Kid in a Park

In September 2015, the United States government launched the “Every Kid in a Park” program. This program provides every fourth grade student in the country (including those who are home schooled) with a pass that allows them, and any family members accompanying them, to enter national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, national monuments, and all other federally-owned lands – over 2000 sites in total – completely for free.

Why fourth graders? Studies show that when children are regularly exposed to the natural world before age 11, they develop a more positive and caring attitude toward the environment. With climate change and air and water pollution continuing to pose problems for residents of Thurston County and the Puget Sound region, we need our future generations of leaders and residents to be knowledgeable and passionate about protecting the environment. Children currently in the fourth grade are also part of an age group that better reflects our country’s growing diversity and changing demographics, meaning that the greatest number of children from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds will have equal opportunity to participate. Additionally, fourth grade is often the last time children in school will be part of one-teacher classrooms, which makes it easy to plan class field trips. If you are a fourth grade teacher, find out how you can get passes for your entire class on the program website. Adults who engage fourth graders as part of religious groups, after-school organizations, or camps also qualify as educators can also print passes for their fourth graders.
The opportunity for kids to get outside and experience nature has never been more important. A study supported by the National Institutes of Health detailed the dangers of “nature deficit disorder” in young adults and how even short amounts of time spent in nature can produce significant and long-lasting health benefits. The report noted that young adults who spend time “in or near green spaces” demonstrate higher academic test scores, better self-control, and fewer behavioral problems at home and in the classroom. Here in the Evergreen State, we’re lucky to have easy access to many green spaces, but the greenest ones are most likely to be found in some of our nearby national parks.

If you don’t have any fourth graders in your family this year, don’t worry. The program will continue, with next year’s fourth graders getting the opportunity to see and experience the beautiful natural wonders of our country with their families for free. If your child completed the fourth grade this spring, they have the opportunity to use their pass until August 31, 2016. If your child is entering the fourth grade this fall, they will be able to get their fourth grade passes starting September 1, 2016.

As the program says, “No matter where you live in the U.S., you’re within two hours of an included site.” If you live in Thurston County you won’t have to travel far to take part in this program. The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is located in the northeastern corner of the county, and is about a half-hour drive from anywhere in the county. There are also several other national lands within easy driving distance. Depending on where you live in Thurston County, Black River Unit of the Nisqually refuge, Julia Butler Hansen and Ridgefield national wildlife refuges, Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks, Gifford Pinchot, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie, Okanagan-Wenatchee or Olympic national forests, and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument are all relatively close. Fourth graders and their families will find excellent opportunities for recreation and education at each of these locations. Let’s get every Thurston County fourth grader outside in a forest, park, or wildlife area!

Warber, S. L., DeHudy, A. A., Bialko, M. F., Marselle, M. R., & Irvine, K. N. (2015). Addressing “Nature-Deficit Disorder”: A Mixed Methods Pilot Study of Young Adults Attending a Wilderness Camp. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM2015, 651827.