Bee Safe Neighborhoods
By Donald Studinski based on an original text by David Braden, Director of Living Systems Institute
Living Systems Institute (LSI), a non-profit operating in Golden, Colorado and Honeybee Keep, a commercial beekeeping business operating in Broomfield, Colorado, have joined forces to sponsor the Bee Safe Neighborhood program.
We pose this question: “Do you want a healthy habitat or a sterile habitat?”
When we choose to use a poison to eliminate some species from our yards there is a series of consequences. One is the collateral damage from the poison. That is, all the non-target bugs that come into direct contact with the poison and die unintentionally. Another is all the species that rely on the one we targeted. By eliminating the target species, we have just eliminated a food source of other species. And, because those species now have nothing to eat, they leave and so do all the species that rely on those species as their food source. The process of eliminating a single species is the first step on a path that, if followed to its logical conclusion, will lead toward a sterile system. The end result of that process is a hospital-like environment. In hospitals the only things that grow are super bugs that cannot be killed by known technology.
Artwork Credit: Emily Wilcox
The most beautiful places you have ever been are healthy ecosystems. They are healthy because they have a full range of species participating. Every species is allowed to give its gift. Every species is allowed to play its role.
There is an (disputable) argument, that if we are going to feed the world's human population, then it is necessary to grow food in huge acreage of a single crop, called a monoculture. The argument goes on to claim that poisons are necessary to protect these huge crops from pests. That argument leads to huge acreages of sterile crop lands where nothing grows except those species that are resistant to the poisons.1
We cannot justify such behavior in a suburban landscape. Our yards and gardens are polycultures and we have space for all the species, both pests and the eaters of those pests. By allowing all the species to participate, we assist nature in becoming healthy and, because the habitat is healthy, it's also beautiful.
For example, when we poison aphids on our roses we prevent lady beetles from participating in our garden leading in the direction of a sterile system. On the other hand, when we think of aphids as food for lady beetles our garden starts to regain its health. A healthy system needs all its parts. In this example: roses, aphids and lady beetles.
This is your habitat. Do you want it to be sterile or healthy? If you want it to be healthy, then a place to start is by taking responsibility for it. That begins with what you have control over and then expands to where you have influence. Here is the Bee Safe Neighborhood proposal. First, stop using poisons. Then, consider holding a neighborhood meeting or gathering where you can offer educational materials from LSI and talk about the benefits and intentions of a Bee Safe Neighborhood. Recruit some like-minded people to help you canvas your neighborhood. Spread out and talk to your neighbors with informational cards and door hangers.
Someone is going to have to talk to that neighbor down the street who is using poisons (or hiring people to use poisons) thinking that they are safe. Such a conversation cannot wait for some environmental activist or some politician to take the initiative. It's up to you. Your neighbor believes that the poison is necessary to protect their investment in their plants. Marketing has convinced them of this. They do not realize that they are damaging the health of the habitat. Ask them to commit to not using systemic poisons. If that conversation does not take place the damage will continue to build on itself leading in the direction of a hospital environment. Most people will at least hear out a neighbor. The conversation need not be confrontational. Just ask if they have heard about the vanishing bees. The conversation is essentially what it says on the door hanger developed by LSI. Even the most committed user of poisons understands the need for pollinators and if they do not agree to quit using systemic poisons right away, they can watch as you demonstrate how beautiful a healthy system can be. Those who have been out canvassing report a mostly positive response from their neighbors and LSI has reported some successes.2
This is about changing the standard for landscaping in our habitat. We know it is possible because we know that people prefer beautiful places to hospitals. But someone has to have that conversation.
LSI will certify neighborhoods as bee safe if 75 contiguous homes agree to pledge not to use systemic poisons. A honey bee will regularly fly two miles to visit a flower. In that area 75 contiguous homes is a relatively small patch of healthy habitat, but it's an important start toward a larger healthy habitat.
The 75 homes has to do with the way humans work. There is scientific research that shows that humans are genetically programmed to want to work together for the common good within groups of 150 people or less.3 75 contiguous homes roughly represents a group that size. It is a neighborhood working together to improve its habitat. And that is what the bees need. That is what we all need if we want to live in a healthy habitat.
If the bees can provide inspiration for us to improve our habitat, then everything wins. Healthy is good for the bees, good for our children, good for our pets, good for all the species that choose to participate and good for us. As a side benefit, people that choose to participate in a Bee Safe Neighborhood get a chance to talk with each other. New relationships get built which hold the potential for more good things.
You can form your own Bee Safe Neighborhood. People are doing it all over the USA. Learn more about the Bee Safe Neighborhood program by visiting the Living Systems Institute website at LivingSystemsInst.org. There you will find resources to help you and kindred spirits that are also forming neighborhoods that are bee safe.
2 http://livingsystemsinst.org/content/bee-safe-honor-roll, visited 9/8/2014