Bee Legislation in Oregon: Oregon Bee Project Origins

Members of the Oregon Bee Project Coordinating Committee alongside Representative Reardon at the Oregon State Capitol. From left to right: Rose Kachadoorian, ODA, Andony Melathopoulos, OSU, Representative Jeff Reardon, District 48, Clint Burfitt, ODA, and Christine Buhl, ODF.

Members of the Oregon Bee Project Coordinating Committee alongside Representative Reardon at the Oregon State Capitol. From left to right: Rose Kachadoorian, ODA, Andony Melathopoulos, OSU, Representative Jeff Reardon, District 48, Clint Burfitt, ODA, and Christine Buhl, ODF.

What is the Oregon Bee Project and where did it come from? The origin story of the Oregon Bee Project is an excellent example of Oregonians developing innovative local solutions.

Only months after State Representative Reardon (Happy Valley, District 48) assumed office, Oregon experienced a tragic pesticide poisoning of bumble bees in a suburban big-box parking lot in Portland. Although he had been thinking about pollinator health before his election, Rep. Reardon quickly found himself at the lead of an initiative to strike a Pollinator Health Task Force and then a comprehensive House Bill around pollinator health.

House Bill 3362 is without equal in the United States and has not only tasked the Oregon State University Extension Service and state agencies to work on pollinator health, but has also committed resources towards carrying out this work.

→ Enter the Oregon Bee Project

The Oregon Bee Project is a collaborative effort between state agencies and advisory representatives from across the state to develop a statewide strategic plan and build (and connect) programs for bee education, research, management, and more. A statewide strategic plan and website resource will be released later this year. The State of Oregon is doing more than ever to support and maintain Oregon’s bees. Almost 5 years since the bee die off that started it all, Oregon State University Extension Service, Oregon Department of Agriculture, and Oregon Department of Forestry are leading the way thanks to investment from the State Legislature and key stakeholders from around the state.

Directly from the pollinator health leader himself, listen in to this week’s PolliNation podcast with  Representative Jeff Reardon:

Link to House Bill 3362-

A Surprising Connection Between a Rock and Bees: Oregon History

This Erratic rock is one of the remaining signs of how Oregon got its fertile farmland and ideal habitat for bees. [Photo by Sarah Kincaid]

This Erratic rock is one of the remaining signs of how Oregon got its fertile farmland and ideal habitat for bees. [Photo by Sarah Kincaid]

You may be wondering what a rock has to do with bees? but the rock in question, sitting on top of a large, sloping hill in Yamhill County, isn’t an ordinary rock. It is in fact an erratic rock, a rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests. It was deposited on top of this hill approximately 14,000 years ago when a series of breaches occurred in a large ice dam in southwestern Montana. These episodic breaches resulted in the release of massive quantities of water, rock, and highly nutrient sediment that made its way across eastern Washington, through the Columbia Gorge, and down the Willamette Valley. The deposits left behind by these events, called the Missoula floods, created some of the most fertile farmland in the country.

The Crop diversity and native plant species richness supported by this fertile region of the state provides bountiful resources for bees throughout the year. Early spring crops like blueberry and cherry provide valuable food resources. Visit the same area at the end of summer and you are likely to find late-season crops like squash and melon in full bloom. Take a fresh look around you and explore the everyday wonders hidden around the Willamette Valley.

Want to visit the rock? Say no more, get directions to the Erratic Rock State Natural Area:

Explore Oregon’s hidden treasures with Travel Oregon:

Unique Regions of Oregon

Photo Credit  Images 1 & 2:  Molly Alloy  Image 3 & 6:  Olivia Guethling  Image 5:  Jalene Littlejohn  Image 7:  Oregon Department of Agriculture          

Oregon’s fabric of diverse farm land and natural areas provide excellent bee habitat. Let’s take a trip around Oregon with Sarah Kincaid, Oregon Dept. of Agriculture entomologist, for a first hand report of Oregon’s diverse habitat for bees.

Eastern Oregon

Cold winters and hot summers set the stage for brief flushes of vibrant wildflowers that are balanced by fields of well-tended, warm season crops such as squash and melons in Eastern Oregon. As you look out over the grassy golden hills you can spot riparian areas loaded with willow trees that provide additional forage and cover. Field margins of flowers are evidence of passionate farmers in the area who support bees. Eastern Oregon is rich in beauty and bees in unexpected places.

Southern Oregon

Deep in the heart of the Rogue Valley, the diverse crop systems make Southern Oregon a unique place for bees. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and flowers keep bees active during a long growing season. Heritage farms are tucked in this small valley next to forest wilderness providing a mixture of native plants, trees, and crops. The extended bloom time and the various stages of growth and crop development created by this setting supports diverse species of bees.

Southern Oregon’s seasons bring delightful changes to the landscape that make it a treasure trove of possibilities for Oregon’s bees.

 Southern Coast

Among the sandy soils and cool ocean breeze you’ll find a surprising number of bees hidden within the wind-whipped forests, cranberry bogs and pastures. The mild maritime climate along the Southern Coast of Oregon allows for an unusually long bee season, starting as early as January. Metallic sweat bees, Osmia, Colletes, and Agapostemon are just a few of the bees that call the coast home. The thick leaves and bell-shaped flowers of manzanita, rhododendron, salal, and huckleberry that border cranberry bogs are ideal forage for native bumble bees–also an optimal pollinator of cranberry. Sandy and compacted banks along coastal roadways also provide excellent habitat for the many ground-nesting bees. A look around the Southern Oregon Coast provides a welcome surprise for even the most seasoned bee expert.

Willamette Valley

Meandering rivers of the Willamette Valley wander through a fabric of fields, prairies, wetlands, and dense urban areas. Riparian areas give cover and water to bees. The valley is characteristically wet during the growing season and dry when plants are setting seed. The fields are filled with mixed crops, berries, orchards, and high value seed crops. Situated along field borders you’ll find native plants such as Nootka rose and big leaf maple mixed in with controversial weedy plants like Himalayan blackberry–all of which provide dense patches of food for bees. People and pollinators thrive in the breathtaking Willamette Valley.

Developing a Pollinator Species Index in Restored Forest Sites in the Pacific Northwest Using Community Science

Photo credit:  Heather Andrews

by Heather Andrews – Faculty Research Assistant, Orchard Crops Extension, North Willamette Research and Extension Center

Native pollinators provide essential functions to balanced ecosystems.  In addition to pollinating a wide range of plants, pollinators, such as bees, are a rich source of protein for numerous animals including birds and amphibians.  Very little information is available regarding species diversity and status in forests in the Pacific Northwest.  Species richness can be an indication of a habitat’s present state, and can give us a better understanding of different pollinator species’ biology and their dependence on specific plants and habitat attributes.  Several years ago, the Salem BLM restored a number of logging sites near Molalla by planting native flowering plants, shrubs and trees that could be used by pollinators and other wildlife as forage and habitat.  To date, there have not yet been any assessments performed on which species have moved into these areas following the restoration work.  The potential for finding particularly diverse species compositions or discovering rare or endangered pollinators (such as the western bumblebee, Bombus occidentalis) at these restored sites could help justify future habitat restoration projects.  There is a pressing need to encourage youth and underserved individuals to experience field science as opposed to simply learning in a classroom setting, particularly since young people benefit greatly from hands-on learning.  There is also a lack of education about native plants and animals in public schools, and by encouraging young people and those that may not have access to these natural ecosystems due to limited transportation to explore the forest and learn about plants and insects, we hope that participants will gain a greater appreciation for these habitats and animals, and will potentially be inspired to further investigate scientific fields of study.

The Community Science Native Bee Project was hatched out of a need for more information regarding pollinator species composition in woodland areas, and the need for young people to gain positive hands on experience in field studies.  This is the second year of this project, which encourages youth to participate and gain hands on experience capturing and identifying insects, with particular emphasis on native pollinators.  The first year of this project was focused on learning more about species diversity in forested areas, as well as searching for alternative pollinators for blueberries.  While honey bees are important pollinators of blueberries, their populations are struggling, and they may not be the most efficient pollinators for these plants.  The Blueberry Bee, Osmia ribifloris, is a small blue/green mason bee, which excels at pollinating blueberries.  It is also more robust compared with honey bees, and will fly under cooler, wetter conditions, which is a beneficial attribute in an area such as the Willamette Valley, where springtime can be extremely wet and chilly.  Although the group did not find any Blueberry Bees during the first year of this project, the youth gained hands on experience collecting field data, and some individuals had the opportunity to share their experiences as school presentations.

During this second year of the project, a group of 9-15-year-old youth from under-served neighborhoods have taken several field trips to select BLM sites where bee nest boxes were set up as a sampling method for bees.  Youth also captured bees and took photos of these bees, which will later be identified by specialists.  There will also be a field trip to the OSU campus, where youth will be given the opportunity to meet bee researchers on campus, and learn about the fascinating research that is taking place there.

Radio PCUN and the Oregon Bee Project

Photo credit Oregon Bee Project.

Photo credit Oregon Bee Project.

by Gilbert Uribe – Oregon Department of Agriculture

The Oregon Bee Project will be talking about bees and pesticide safety with the audience of Radio Movimiento (Movement Radio), a Spanish-language radio station based in Woodburn, Oregon in early November, 2017. Radio Movimiento is a community radio station operated by PCUN – Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noreste (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United) which is Oregon’s Farmworker union. The worker union is also based in Woodburn and was founded in 1985 with the fundamental goal of aiding in the empowerment of farmworkers.

The objective of the meeting and conversation is to share the work of the Oregon Bee Project with the Spanish-speaking community in Oregon. Much of the conversation taking place will be in regard to bees, their diversity, and health status in our state. But central to bee health and pollinator protection is improving the broader understanding of pesticide safety and exposure risk mitigation by drawing on the parallels of bees and agricultural workers; both face an increased risk to pesticide exposure, have the potential to bring back residues to their homes, and make Oregon’s agriculture possible.

Understanding the interdependence of all involved in the agricultural production line makes it evident that one issue can’t be solved without at least addressing how it affects all the parts that interconnect. The high number of bee species estimated to be found in Oregon are supported by the diversity of landscapes and agricultural crops found within the state. The industry, in turn, depends on the labor provided by farmworkers which ultimately would not be possible without consumer demand. Thus, improving pesticide safety benefits bees, agricultural workers, and the consumers of agricultural products.

One of the goals of the Oregon Bee Project is to reach as many Oregonions as possible to raise awareness and provide accessible information about bees, their biology, and how to protect them. Just like English-speakers, the Spanish-speakers we encounter become fascinated when we explain that the estimated number of bee species in Oregon is over 500, that the majority of them live in small holes in the ground, and that many flourish in areas that many would not have previously suspected. The diversity in color, size, and tidbits exemplifying the diversity of behavior elicits fascination and wonder in a manner that highlights the innate affinity and curiosity that most humans share with the natural world and the living things that surround them.

This event will allow us to explore new ways in which we can continue to build a relationship with the agricultural worker communities in order to continue providing useful information in a manner that is most appropriate for them and that ultimately benefits all Oregonians.

The End of the Season

Photo credit Oregon Bee Project.

Photo credit Oregon Bee Project.

by Sarah Kincaid, Entomologist – Oregon Department of Agriculture

With the cold nights and rain ushering in the end of another field season I am finally getting a chance to reflect on what has been a very busy year for the Oregon Bee Project.  We toured much of the State, meeting innovative farmers, passionate conservationists, beekeepers, and a host of enthusiastic volunteers, educators, and students. And what did we learn? That Oregon truly loves its bees! Thank you all for the support and interest. This once little project has grown into a network of agencies and individuals with the lofty goal of preserving the nation’s bee populations for generations to come.  Through the Fall and Winter, we will be adding resources to our website and will keep you updated on our plans for next year.

And now back to the bees…. As the weather becomes cooler, and precipitation returns to the State, bees begin wrapping up their work for the season. At this point, many of our native bees have recently finished nesting.  Most of them will overwinter as prepupae and will mate upon emergence in the Spring. Some, such as the early-emerging Andrena, or mining bees, have long since finished nesting.  The larvae of these bees may be about to reach adulthood, the stage at which they will go through the winter safely tucked away in their natal nests. Other bees, especially the social bees, are able to stay active until the very end of the season, and in the case of the honey bee, even stay alive through the Winter. These groups of bees have overlapping generations, and at least a small amount of food reserves (nectar and pollen), making their active season much longer. Currently, the bees I am still seeing in the field are all social and are bumble bees, honey bees, and sweat bees. In fact, earlier in the week, I was even able to find a group of sweat bees, most likely Halictus tripartitus, still nesting at the base of a tree in an apple orchard. What I witnessed on that particular afternoon was a small cloud of males outside of the nest, waiting to mate.  In this group of bees, the females that emerge at the end of the season mate before finding an overwintering chamber, while the rest of the adults in the colony die off in the Fall.  These females will emerge sometime next year, ready to lay eggs.  Individuals from eggs laid previously in the season will also emerge next year, and may become the workforce of the late season females.  

Unwanted Visitor

Photo credit Elaine Beyer.

Photo credit Elaine Beyer.

by Elaine Beyer

Living adjacent to the Santiam State Forest, a person can experience many different encounters with different species of wildlife. The past several autumns we’ve discovered bear scat in our fruit orchard and scattered amongst the property. In late April I made a split in one of my hives along with a baited swarm trap. Moving them to the meadow in the woods was the best option, since it’s a distance from the apiary. Last year I put a swarm trap over there with no problem, this year I wasn’t so lucky. As I drove up to check on the boxes, after several days of rain, to my dismay I found a pile of rubble. Both the bait and hive boxes were ravaged by a bear. After picking up the mess I was able to repair all but two frames. I was heartbroken and chalked it up as a learning experience. That day I moved all four swarm traps that were distributed throughout the property, along with the hive box back to the apiary. Knowing the bear had a taste of brood and honey I thought it best.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) states that Ursus americanus or the black bear is the most widely dispersed bear in North America. Black bears are Oregon’s only remaining bear species. They range from 5 to 6 feet in length and weigh from 125 to 500 pounds. They are relatively populous, with approximately 25,000 to 30,000 residing in the state. These bears have a home range of 15 to 80 square miles, a lifespan in the wild of 18 to 20 years and are solitary animals. Mating in June and July, the males become aggressive and territorial. Females give birth to 2 to 4 cubs in winter, while denning. Cubs remain with their mothers until spring, then the females will breed again. The black bear can also be brown, blonde or cinnamon in color. Bears have a legendary attraction to bee hives. The main attraction being the brood for protein, honey being secondary and a favorite on the bears menu.

Trying to deter the bears away from your hives in bear country is crucial. The best and cheapest option is a good electric fence. We have yet to see the bear, but did capture it or perhaps another one on our game camera.

Elaine Beyer is a journeyman student with the Oregon Master Beekeepers Program at Oregon State University. Her goal is to receive her journeyman’s certificate, maintain healthy and populous hives and produce honey to enjoy and sell.

Observations of Male Mason Bee (Osmia) Aggregations

Mason Bee males in an aggregation in a wooden post in Sweet Home, OR 6 April 2017. Photo Credit Richard Little.

Mason Bee males in an aggregation in a wooden post in Sweet Home, OR 6 April 2017. Photo Credit Richard Little.

by Rich Little

During the first week of April 2017 I checked my Mason Bee nesting condos every evening to determine the number of females that had returned to the nesting blocks to spend the night. I was trying to determine how many females were surviving during this prolonged cool & wet spring. I also checked the condos during daylight to determine the daytime activity level of the bees. During this time in early April on rainy/overcast days I observed very little flight activity.

On those days with little or no flight activity I saw about two dozen females in ‘their’ tubes. Most were facing outward while in their hole. I observed very few males during this time. On those days with some sunshine and the females were active, I observed some males on or near the nesting blocks. I was wondering how the males were surviving and where they were spending the evenings. I did some searching around my yard for these males. After several days and evenings of searching I observed a wooden post and notice a large empty bolt hole in which there were about 10 male Mason Bees that had formed an aggregation within the hole.

Several times over different days I observed this male aggregation. It may be that the males had found a sheltered location close enough to the bee condos where they may have been able to determine when the females were becoming active. While this wooden post is no longer in the yard, I will place in future seasons some artificial holes of various sizes and location around my yard and see what happens.

Beekeeping Management Focus

Late season drone removal. Photo credit: Jen Holt.

Late season drone removal. Photo credit: Jen Holt.

Originally posted August 17, 2017

by Charlie Vanden Heuvel, Journey student and Mentor in the Oregon Master Beekeeper Program

While we are focused on the heat of August, the honey bees have been applying their entire effort toward winter. In order for the bees to thrive our northern climate they must be healthy and of course have sufficient stores. The Queen has begun laying “Winter Bees capable of living up to 300 days versus the ‘non-winter bee’ whose life span is 40 to 45 days. As a beekeeper, we should strive to support their transition from post winter to the impending season. In a couple weeks changing from the typical 1:1 sugar syrup feeding to 2:1 syrup is in order. This fattens the bees in their preparation.

Simultaneous to replacing the foraging work force, beekeepers will be witnessing the expulsion of the Drone population, as nature no longer needs them. Swarm season, with its peak in May/June and the necessity for mating Queens, has passed. The Drones are now seen as unnecessary consumers of the precious winter stores.

Finally continue to monitor the hive’s space. The Nectar Flow for our area is typically in May/June, but this year found it more in early July. August and September the bees are working wild flowers which have proven as resourceful as the main flow. We are stewards! Listen to the girls applying your best stewardship skills in support of their efforts.