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Boulder Gets “Bee Happy” to Prevent Hive Loss

By Yvette Bowden, Director of Parks and Recreation, City of Boulder

Welcome to Boulder, a lively town nestled at 5,430 feet against the scenic backdrop of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Front Range. Our town is famed for its active lifestyle, 300+ days of sunshine a year, and an entrepreneurial spirit, crowning the quaint cityscape as America’s Startup Capital and among the nation’s “Best Places to Live”. Boulder’s unparalleled quality of life is at the core of our department’s commitment to cultivating a long-term vision for our community’s future, health, and well being – including our neighbors, the bees.

Yes, bees.

Honeybees have been around for millions of years and they have incredible abilities. Bee brains can defy time and bees have different personalities. They also play an important function in our environment. A third of our national food production depends on bee pollination. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that honeybees pollinate 80% of the country’s crops. However, the national honeybee population is in steep decline. 

The decline in our nation’s honeybee population is thought to be due to several environmental aspects such as pesticide use – among other factors. One group of these pesticides is Neonicotinoids, also called neonics, which contains Imidacloprid, a neurotoxin to insects including bees. The neonics class of pesticides is used to treat a variety of plants that are commonly present in city parks systems such as turf/grass, shrubs, trees, and decorative flowers (both annuals and perennials). As a result, our food production system and ecosystem is suffering damage.

Clearly, bees matter.

Recognizing their importance, and in alignment with regional and national trends to support bee-safe practices, Boulder’s City Council recently took major steps to encourage citywide bee-friendly initiatives. The city passed Resolution No. 1159, A Resolution Concerning the Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides in the City of Boulder, in May 2015, and declared September 2015 Pollinator Appreciation Month – a cross-departmental effort with the goal of encouraging our community to celebrate our pollinators and take steps to protect them.

In collaboration with the city’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Boulder Parks and Recreation has also been working diligently to promote public awareness around bee-safety for years. As a result, IPM’s policy directs that pesticides be reduced or eliminated, wherever possible. Most pesticides are banned on city properties and the city’s turf grass has been pesticide-free for more than 12 years. In response to these citywide efforts, the department’s Pleasant View Fields Sports Complex Championship Field has just been awarded the 2015 Colorado Sports Turf Managers Association-Rocky Mountain Sports Field of the Year. This award recognizes the level and type of maintenance practices used to maintain the field, including strict IPM standards that don’t allow any pesticides and herbicides.

Beyond promoting and celebrating “Bee Happy” practices throughout Boulder, our department has also focused on leveraging public awareness around the importance of bees for our youth engagement and volunteerism efforts.

Getting “Bee Happy” has not been an easy organizational transition but it has been worth the journey. Initial change to pesticide-free horticulture practices, for example, meant sourcing plants from different neonic-free facilities that could not always provide the quantity and variety of plants desired for our city’s parks maintenance efforts. Additionally, we had to educate our staff and community about the importance of our bee-safe practices which was achieved via online and social media channels, our quarterly Recreation Guide, and through citywide communications channels, including Channel 8.

Bees remind us of how intricately connected we are with our environment. Our bees in Boulder inspire advocacy, partnership, and network building. Through Boulder’s bee-friendly journey, we have been also able to evolve organizational change, engage new neighbors, and practice innovation in delivering system sustainability – all to ensure livable communities for generations to come.

As we continue to learn about opportunities for promoting and implementing bee-safe practices in our day-to-day routine, we hope to inspire other municipalities to consider bee-friendly initiatives for their local parks system.

For more information about Boulder Parks and Recreation latest projects, please visit: https://bouldercolorado.gov/parks-rec.

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