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Pollinator advocates behind buzz to certify Austin as a Bee City

Wednesday, March 9, 2022 by Willow Higgins

City Council members smiled for the camera wearing bobbling bee headbands as they welcomed bee advocates to speak on behalf of a recent resolution to make Austin a certified Bee City USA.With the resolution’s unanimous passage at last week’s Council meetingAustin officially joined the network of cities working to protect local native bee and honeybee populations.

By becoming a Bee City USA affiliate, Council and community members have committed to making the city a healthier place for pollinators. The nonprofit Bee City USA provides a framework to improve bee habitats by doing things like planting more native plants, establishing nesting sites for bees and reducing harmful pesticide use. The new initiative kicked off at the Austin Nature and Science Center last Saturday where attendees learned about pollinator gardening. The center’s large beehive will be getting a much-needed renovation as part of the initiative.

“This (resolution) is extremely important because we are losing the biodiversity that bees represent at a swift pace,” said Council Member Leslie Pool, who co-sponsored the resolution and spoke in support of it at last week’s Council meeting. “In Central Texas, our formal protections include the golden-cheeked warbler, our black-capped vireo and the Jollyville Plateau salamander. Our focus must also include bees, butterflies like our monarchs, and our flowering plants. This work is key to ensuring our planet survives and adapts to the pressures of climate change.”

Pool went on to explain that, while only 13 percent of our country’s biodiversity is protected, the Biden administration is working to increase that number to 30 percent by 2030. By becoming a certified Bee City, Austin isn’t only advancing its goals as a locality, it is contributing to a federal initiative.

Citizen communication in support of the resolution was robust at the meeting, and many of the advocates who spoke were involved in bringing the resolution forward for approval. 

“The true buzz is being created by our park staff and our community partners, who over the past two years have spent many hours gathering support for the certification, working to meet the very stringent criteria the application requires, and finally bringing it to us here today for our support,” Pool continued.

Erika Thompson of Texas Beeworks, a TikToker with over 10 million followers, is one of the Texans fighting to save the bees.

“I’m a proud native Texan and I’ve called Austin home for the past 15 years. Over that time, I’ve watched as more people move to Austin and our native landscapes and wildlife habitats become lesser and smaller and fewer,” Thompson said at the meeting. “This leaves both honeybees and native bees struggling to find food and homes. Designating Austin as a Bee City, we’ll be able to protect and promote the health and wellness of bees and other essential pollinators … when you support Austin bees, you’re also supporting local farmers and our local food system.”

Seth Billingsley, a conservation associate at Environment Texas, also spoke at the meeting, arguing that becoming a certified Bee City is the natural next step in advancing the city’s efforts to save the bees.

“Native bees and honeybees play a crucial role in the web of life that sustains us and all other species,” Billingsley said. “Their contribution to pollination is vital for our food sources … our canvas staff has talked to tens of thousands of Austinites on their doorsteps, and I can tell you that our city loves the bees and wants to protect them. So thank you, Council members Pool, (Vanessa) Fuentes and (Kathie) Tovo, as well as Mayor Pro Tem (Alison) Alter for sponsoring this resolution. … You are the bee’s knees.”

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