Making Longmont the Bees Knees: simple ways to help save our pollinators (and why we need to)

There’s so much to love about our #HealthyLongmont community. Not least, this is a community that cares for the well-being of its members. This is evidenced in our bike paths, our trails. It can be seen in the vibrant bustle of local farms; in resources supporting mental and physical health needs and awareness; in calls to provide feedback in how to make our thriving, caring community even better. Perhaps best of all, Longmont’s commitment to the health of our community can be seen in the humble recognition that there is always, always much that can be done to keep on getting better. Want to be an integral part of meaningful progress? Longmont Coalition for People and Pollinators Action Network wants to assure you, there is a lot you can do to make a significant difference, one that yields compounding results. And all it takes is mere minutes of active time to get started.

Pollinators are in trouble. Bees have been named by prominent scientists as the most critical species  to survival on the planet. They’ve shaped the evolution of plant life. Nearly 250,000 species of flowering plants depend upon them for pollination after all. They greatly increase the yield of a vast variety of crops upon which we are dependent for food. Honeybees are said to feed more than 7 billion people thanks to their hard work pollinating crops worldwide. Now, the bees are dying prematurely. Their systems are not operating as they should. And it’s not just the bees. All pollinators are in trouble. All pollinators including butterflies, wasps, ants (yes, ants!), birds and bats are in decline. Why? “It’s a complex issue, and there may be no one answer,” says Sue Anderson, co-chair of the People and Pollinators Action Network and founder of the Longmont division. “Pesticides are doubtless a big part of the problem. There are also factors like habitat loss, parasites, climate change to consider. But what we really need to be mindful of is this: everybody is endangered right now, including people, if pollinators disappear.”

A social worker by training, Sue is a community activist with a 30+ year history of non-profit management experience in three states and active involvement in numerous organizations dedicated to supporting community and environmental health. Needless to say, she is and always has been passionate about advocacy, human services and social justice issues. As she puts if, “I’ve been activist since I was born”.  In college she double majored in environmental studies and geography. About six years ago, when Sue started keeping bees, she realized anew just how intrinsically connected all her passions were, for community, health, and the planet. “We need to find better ways to protect our pollinators, within our existing systems,” Sue says. ” At PPAN, we are not trying to be controversial. We recognize how complicated the situation is. But the fact is, there are ways we can promote sustainable agriculture and change our systems to be less toxic. Growing food shouldn’t need to reduce biodiversity, or harm human health. Today, we can’t separate those issues. It’s all connected.”

People for Pollinators Action Network (PPAN) began in 2014, a time when the state legislature was examining and developing policy around pesticides application. “A group of us involved in PPAN were working together to look at ways to impact policy all along the Front Range, and we realized it was a very polarizing issue,” Sue says. “Talking about pesticides and human health issues…that hits a lot of raw nerves. Several of us determined that someone needed to be championing things, ways to come up with policies that could be widely embraced as positive; to protect children, create buffer zones around schools; to educate consumers. We were struck by how much we can actually do simply in our own yards.”

Since it’s founding, PPAN has achieved a great deal in small increments. They have influenced legislation around pesticide use. Last year, PPAN efforts yielded the designation of I-76 as a pollinator highway, Colorado’s first, and have been working with CDOT on plans. The Longmont chapter, begun in 2015, has found City of Longmont government highly receptive, and has promoted development of consistent policy across departments on application of pesticides. In May, the PPAN promoted pollinator resolution, which guides pollinator-protection practices, was adopted by City Council. Currently, changes to weed ordinances are pending approval that make mimicking native landscapes possible.

Will current efforts be enough? We can’t afford to bank on it. Unfortunately, if trends continue as they are, the stakes are catastrophic. But it’s not all doom and gloom. “Awareness is growing,” Sue says. “I was asked by a 5-year old at the Farmers Market, ‘how can we protect the pollinators?’ She knew the word “pollinators”, and she knew the most important thing is not to pick the flowers. That gives me hope.”

What can we do to help? Lots. What’s more, your support can evolve. And, no matter how little you put in, it all counts.

Protect Pollinators: What You Can Do Today:

  1. Learn about the issues. Educate yourself.
  2. Create habitat. “We kill off weeds because we don’t like the way they look,” Sue says. “Hand weeding takes more time, but it makes a great difference. We can also figure out ways to design landscapes in a way that minimizes weeds. Plant native, plant diversity. To me, that’s the most important thing. Pollinators need a grocery store; green grass is a food desert. There’s nothing there for pollinators. Not only that, it takes a tremendous amount of water.”
  3. Reduce and eliminate use of pesticides altogether. “The biggest things affecting pollinators are climate change and lack of forage,” Sue says. “There is also disease and mite problems within managed hives. Pesticides affect immune systems and make them more susceptible to all these things. Pesticides may not be the only problem and may not be even the biggest problem, but it is one significant problem and one we can have some influence over. Plant clover in your lawn if you want green. It’s pretty. Let the dandelions bloom. Go ahead and mow them after, but let them bloom. They are one of the most important plants for pollinators.”
  4. Get together. Talk to your neighbors. PPAN has a Pollinator Safe Neighborhood program. “We’re always looking for coordinators to talk to neighbors, educate community, collect pledges to create a pollinator safe space,” says Sue.  “Talk to your schools. Increasingly schools with parental persuasion are putting in pollinator gardens and incorporating pollinator education into programming. Help kids understand what is a honeybee, what is a wasp. Use the garden as an education tool. Find out about your school’s policy and practice around using pesticides on school grounds.”
  5. Speak up! Help people understand that even insects that sting are important in the environment. Talk to your elected officials. Lots people can do.



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