Save the bees! This is a phrase that has been circulating in our communities for multiple years. Many native bee populations have been declining due to a variety of factors such as habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change. Bees play an essential role in our ecosystem—they are vital pollinators. Plants rely heavily on bees for pollination; without bees and other insects, they would not be able to reproduce. At UC Santa Barbara, with an army of dedicated students, staff, and faculty, we are actively engaging in a journey to save the bees by becoming Bee Campus certified.
Alyssa Jain, a third-year student majoring in Environmental Studies, brought this project to fruition starting in 2020 when she participated in the Environmental Leadership Incubator. The program asks students to come up with an environmental project, idea, or initiative and implement it throughout the course of the school year. For her project, she chose to act on her passion for bees, working to make UCSB more supportive and hospitable for native bee species. She was introduced to the Xerces Society, an invertebrate conservation organization that runs the Bee Campus USA certification program, and has been working on getting the campus certified ever since.
Alyssa’s passion for bees blossomed during childhood. As many people do, she used to harbor a fear of the fuzzy winged insects. However, her family fostered in her a deep respect towards the creatures, teaching her about their integral role in agriculture and their close relationship with people. Her interest grew as she learned about the thousands of species of native bees—their diversity and relationships with other parts of the ecosystem, only increased her fascination. Her deep appreciation of bees and their role in the ecosystem made the Bee Campus USA certification the perfect project for her to take on.
The certification program is meant to recognize campuses that commit to insect and pollinator conservation. In order to become a certified Bee Campus, campuses have to commit to a few requirements. These include, but are not limited to, offering courses highlighting the importance of native pollinators, providing opportunities for service learning, hosting events that bring awareness to the importance of bees and conservation, reducing the use of pesticides, creating more habitats for native bees, and having a committee of faculty, staff, and students to oversee bee conservation on campus. This is an ongoing process with yearly check-ins—campuses do not have to meet every requirement at the time of application. The Xerces Society wants to encourage as many campuses to commit to bee conservation as possible, and supports them in following through with their commitments in the long run.
Through Alyssa’s and other key players' efforts, UCSB is now Bee Campus Certified. UCSB already has a majority of the Bee Campus commitments fulfilled. We have an established Bee Campus USA committee—it is a subset of the Landscape & Biotic Environment Committee, which has been integral to forming the committee. In addition to the staff on the committee, there are faculty members from a variety of departments as well as a couple of students dedicated to making our campus more bee-friendly. On top of the committee, we have a garden that serves as a habitat for pollinators on campus; an integrated pest management program to reduce the use of pesticides; courses focused on invertebrates and insects; and volunteer projects with community gardens and the UCSBees project, a community science project that observes bees to gain a better understanding of the number of bee species in the area. Alyssa’s project also involved the creation of two pollinator and community gardens around Isla Vista and campus, which can be found at St. Mike’s Church and at the Greenhouse Garden Project. More information, resources, and blog posts can be found at the Bee Campus website, which was created by Isabella Puchkova, the Bee Campus website intern.
UCSB and the surrounding area serve as home for at least 71 species of native bees, including one of the federally endangered bumblebee species. Our ongoing commitment will be critical to preserving biodiversity through the creation of habitats, as well as educating future generations of conservationists who are willing to put in the work to save the bees.
“A big part of the Bee Campus USA program is education. Insects often go unnoticed and unrecognized, but they really do a lot for the environment, the ecosystem, and for us personally. It’s a good way to get people to know about bees and care about them, and eventually help protect them,” said Alyssa.
Alyssa would love for more students and community members to get involved. Information on volunteer work days to plant gardens and take care of them can be found on the Bee Campus website; students can also join the Bee Campus USA committee. Alyssa worked closely with Katja Seltmann, the director of CCBER, on this initiative as well as several other stakeholders on campus, all of whom Alyssa expressed deep gratitude for.
If you are interested in getting involved or have any questions, you can contact Alyssa (firstname.lastname@example.org) or look on the website.
Written by Connie Yoon