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Guest Opinion: Heard the buzz about Bee City USA?

Every beekeeper will tell you that a successful hive is much greater than the sum of its parts. The same can also be said of every successful city.

And Ashland is about to become even greater, because it is recognizing, acknowledging, and supporting one of its smallest, but perhaps one of its most important, parts. Tonight, the Ashland City Council is expected to approve becoming a Bee City USA ®.

But this designation by no means applies only to honey bees. In fact, being a Bee City USA may be more even important for our other pollinators, such as butterflies, moths, native bees and bats!

The Bee City USA movement began in 2012 in Asheville, N.C. Talent was approved as the second Bee City this past June, and then Carrboro, N.C., was third. Ashland hopes to be the fourth Bee City USA in the country.

What does being a Bee City USA mean? At minimum: issue a proclamation, erect signs and hold one celebration annually to educate people about our pollinators. But it really means city leaders recognize the crucial role pollinators play in feeding us, and will work to implement practices to assist the community's efforts in improving the lives of these little creatures.

Did you know that one out of three bites of food is the result of pollination? Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops annually in the U.S. But in some places in the world, humans must pollinate crops, because overuse of pesticides and loss of habitat have resulted in too few pollinators.

We need all our pollinators here in the RV, and we want them to flourish. The Rogue Valley has a thriving agriculture, and our Growers Markets are famous. Without our pollinators, we have no farmers.

Not only are our pollinators critical to our local food supply, they are local economic stimulators! Both Asheville and Carrboro boast new businesses and tourist related activities associated with their Bee City USA status. Last month, Ashland was proud to host the first annual Oregon Honey Festival. Ashland's incredible North Mountain Park already draws visitors. What else can our valley do to develop our pollinator economy?

Many long-time valley residents know that our monarch butterfly population has experienced a huge decline from a decade or two ago. Again, pesticides and loss of habitat are the culprits. Thankfully, recent small plantings of milkweed scattered around the valley may be having a positive impact, as people have reported a slight increase in the number of monarch sightings this year.

Unfortunately, some of our native pollinators are not faring so well. The western bumblebee is now rare in Southern Oregon, and Franklin's bumble bee is possibly extinct. Other native bumble bee species have experienced declines in their numbers.

Let's work together to save what we still have.

Just like every creature, pollinators need habitat, food and water. If every home had at least one native plant in their yard, and if every home and business stopped using chemical pesticides, our pollinators could make huge strides in their recovery. Native plants are generally drought tolerant and better able to withstand the extremes of the seasons, making them easier to care for. And many of them come back every year, reducing the number of plants to buy.

The valley has a number of local nurseries that grow native, pollinator friendly plants, and with more demand, more nurseries will grow them, and in greater variety. But be cautious — ask if the plants have been grown, or treated, with neonicotinoids — these systemic pesticides interfere with the bees' ability to navigate, and because it is in the pollen fed to baby bees, subsequent generations are harmed.

Pollinator Project Rogue Valley is working to improve the health and well-being of our pollinators and to help other cities become a Bee City USA. Like us on Facebook or send an email to pollinatorprojectroguevalley@gmail.com to join our community. And visit www.beecityusa.org to find out more.

In this time of thanksgiving and celebration, Ashland is celebrating, and being thankful for, our pollinators. To paraphrase another writer — what happens to the least of us, happens to all of us.

Kristina Lefever of Ashland is a member of the Hive Steering Committee for Pollinator Project Rogue Valley.