Southern Oregon University was named the nation’s number-one pollinator friendly school by the Sierra Club in an article published this week in its Sierra magazine (www.sierraclub.org/sierra).
The club picked what they considered the top 14 schools out of about 50 designated Bee Campuses in the nation. The certification is designated by Bee City USA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating sustainable pollinator habitats to save the insects that diversity in our daily diet possible. The organization is also known for its educational programs and certifications they give to cities (Ashland included), campuses and other communities.
SOU was the first campus designated as a Bee Campus back in 2015, only a year after its first pollination garden was planted, according to Mike Oxendine, SOU landscape supervisor. The university worked alongside Bee City USA to come up with the requirements that must be met to receive the certification.
Roxane Beigel-Coryell, SOU sustainability and recycling coordinator and chair of the sustainability council, said it was a collaboration of staff members and students who came up with the idea of a Bee Campus designation.
“Some different people on campus said it would be great if a campus could get designated as a pollinator-friendly place because we’re kind of like small cities and the Bee City designation didn’t quite fit the university,” Beigel-Coryell. “It brings recognition to the university so when you go to your administration and say, ‘we want to take out some of our lawns and put in pollinator gardens,’ in addition to doing the environmental good of creating space for pollinator habitat, you can let them know that it will be recognized on a national platform.”
Oxendine said the landscape crew did exactly that, removed lawn and replaced it with pollinator-friendly habitat. He said the entire campus is now designated as a wildlife habitat.
Oxendine planted most of the pollinator beds on campus. There are 21 certified beds, not including the beds that aren’t designated. Because the plants are expensive, the landscape crew started a propagation program.
“We collect the seed and take cuttings from the original pollinator bed and have been expanding that,” Oxendine said.
The Bee Campus certification requires commitment from staff, students and faculty to develop a campus habitat plan, host events, sponsor service-learning projects, offer pollinator-focused curriculum, educate the campus and community and report on the previous year when applying for renewal certification.
Vincent Smith, chair of the environment science and policy program, said much of the program’s curriculum is focused on teaching students the value of stewardship of the environment in the form of real-world work.
“Our students partner with Mike, here on campus, Bee City USA and other local bee clubs and organizations to both do projects and research specifically on pollinators,” Smith said. “We’ve had a number of senior capstone projects that have focused exclusively on pollinator mortality and strategies for reduction of pollinator mortality, forage material benefits, habitat corridors, and we’re doing a lot of GIS work right now creating pollinator maps to figure out where exactly the pollinators are located.”
Kristina Lefever, president of Pollinator Project Rogue Valley and chair of Bee City USA, Ashland, said the expansion of urban development is a major cause of endangerment for these insects.
“Development is one of the worst things for pollinators because the natural spaces go away, which have native plants, weeds and undisturbed habitat,” Lefever said as she yanked invasive weeds from a pollinator garden at the Ashland Creek Park. “Did you know that 70 percent of bees worldwide nest in the ground?”
Lefever said pollinator gardens are meant to attract various pollinators and provide shelter and food for the insects while they’re in the area.
“Without our pollinators we really wouldn’t have very much to eat. Our food would be quite limited,” Lefever said. “We wouldn’t have many fruits, vegetables and nuts that we do now. We are intrinsically linked to our pollinators and it’s a hard concept to get.”
“We have carrots because an insect pollinated that carrot flower,” Lefever said. “It’s like sex. If you don’t have an insect come and pollinate that carrot flower, then the seed doesn’t get pollinated, therefore it’s not fertile and therefore when you plant it, you don’t get a carrot.”
She also said specific species of bees are on the verge of extinction if not already. The Franklin bumblebee, at one common in this area, hasn’t been seen since 2006, Lefever said.
There are 50 approved pollinator gardens in Ashland designated through Bee City USA, Ashland, plus more throughout the city that aren’t designated as such. These gardens are a part of the Rogue Buzzway Project, which is the collaboration of multiple organizations mapping the pollinator corridors and isolated gardens throughout the Rogue Valley.
“Pollinators are in peril all over the world,” Oxendine said. “But I think that if we can make an impact on a local scale, we can set the example. Through an educational institution like this (SOU) we have a lot of students come here and if they can pick up just a little bit of this stewardship of the environment and take that with them, it’ll spread throughout the world.”