Big buzz! Augusta takes bee-friendly pledge

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A column by Tom Van Dusen

Augusta Township recently considered the important environmental question: To bee, or not to bee!

Township council unanimously decided to bee, setting aside vacant municipal property to help harbour honeybees, the most popular pollinators. Council also agreed to become the first member of ‘’Bee City Canada’’ in Eastern Ontario, one of 40 jurisdictions across the country officially committed to protecting those pollinators.

In so doing, councillors and staff have taken the pledge…the Pollinator Protector Pledge, that is, choosing to create appropriate habitats, to put flowering plants to bloom every season, to garden pesticide-free as much as possible, to let leaves lie in the garden over the winter, and to actively promote pollinator protection. We as individuals can, and should, do the same.

Council has chosen to renew the $150 township membership in Bee City every year in connection with National Pollinator Week recognized in June. Signs will be erected and they might even stage an annual celebration of honeybees and other pollinators.

In other words, Augusta has gone deep into the sticky stuff and there’s a reason for that. The township is primarily agricultural and is always interested is new ways to help support its farmers, Mayor Doug Malanka observed. As a Bee City member, council will strive to create and improve habitat while educating residents as to the importance of the little critters buzzing among them, particularly as it relates to growing food.

Bees pollinate many crops such as apple, pumpkin and blueberry which wouldn’t survive without that welcome intervention. Over a third of the diet of Ontario residents comes from insect-pollinated plants. In addition, honeybees and wild bees are vital to a healthy ecosystem.

‘’We recognize that increasing opportunities for pollinators will make our community more colourful, vibrant, sustainable and productive,’’ council has further pledged.

Part of Augusta’s plan to show pollinators some love incorporates two beekeepers setting up hives on municipal land in a pilot project to rebuild and expand colonies. The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association (OBA) has reported a steady decline in honey yields pointing primarily to lack of quality forage.

How could councillors resist after planner Myron Belej suggested backing bees was a ‘’sweet deal that will create a lot of buzz.’’ Belej doesn’t sound like your average planner; I just wish he hadn’t landed on that line before I could get to it.

Across North America as in Augusta, the honeybee population has declined rapidly over the past decade. The OBA says that decline is due to a number of ‘’interacting stressors’’ including exposure to pesticides applied to cash crops and chemical weed control undertaken by municipalities. Roadside plants such as goldenrod and aster have become vital sources of late season nectar and pollen.

There’s one fly in the ointment for Augusta: It sprays wild parsnip in roadside ditches with a chemical that, while it doesn’t harm bees directly, kills many of the flowering plants they thrive upon.

CAO Ray Morrison said the township is always open to trying less harmful weed treatments and pointed out that Bee City didn’t require chemical-free spraying as part of membership.

The pilot project will be undertaken by Augusta beekeepers Ron Grootjans of Bee Too Honey Farm and John Espadero of Bayanihan Honey. Township staff identified 12 potential properties where hives could be placed and the beekeepers narrowed them down, finally picking two.

The idea is to spread honeybee installations across the township expanding the reach of the pollinators. The locations will remain private to help protect the bees, hives and equipment from vandals and thieves. Should the pilot be successful, other sites will be added.

In its application to Bee City Canada, Augusta underlined that it’s getting a new nine-acre preserve this summer under the auspices of South Nation Conservation, another site where bees and other pollinators will be welcome and protected.

Here’s hoping other area municipalities will be suitably inspired and make a bee-line for the Pollinator Protector Pledge!




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