Newsroom Midwest Region

Beeing a good neighbor

November 7, 2017

A rusty-patched bumble bee enjoys pollen from a flower. Photo by Tam Smith/USFWS
A rusty-patched bumble bee enjoys pollen from a flower. Photo by Tam Smith/USFWS.

Building one bee house on every block throughout the Twin Cities is the goal for a St. Paul fourteen year-old. More than 170 bee houses have been created since Nikolas Liepins founded Bee Kind MN in 2016. Bee Kind MN was awarded the 2017 Pollinator Advocate Award for the USA from the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.

It all started as a school project for the St. Paul Academy FIRST LEGO League team. Liepins and his teammates learned about the rapid decline of native bees and wanted to help maintain the wild bee population by making solitary bee houses around their school and informing their classmates. However, Liepins soon realized this could have a bigger impact in his community and beyond.

“Informing our peers can create a deeper connection to the message that native bees need our help”, said Liepins. “Bee Kind MN offers a simple solution for a real-world problem.”

Beeing a leader

Nikolas Liepins of Bee Kind MN receives the Pollinator Advocate Award for the USA from the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. Photo courtesy of James Sherman.
Nikolas Liepins of Bee Kind MN receives the Pollinator Advocate Award for the USA from the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. Photo courtesy of James Sherman.

Jill Utrup, Ecological Services Fish and Wildlife Biologist at the Minnesota/Wisconsin Field Office in Bloomington, MN heard all the buzz when Liepins spoke alongside Dr. Elaine Evans from University of Minnesota Extension at a Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge citizen science event. Utrup was encouraged by his presentation and how a teenager is having a profound effect on pollinator conservation in the Twin Cities.

“As outreach goes, Liepins has the natural ability to connect to his audiences, whether they are eight or eighty years old,” said Utrup.

Since their introduction, Utrup and Liepins have been collaborating at schools, bee workshops, and refuge events. They are working together to spread the Bee Kind MN mission and our goal to increase urban awareness of the plight of pollinators.

Thanks to Bee Kind MN, we are expanding our capacity to increase awareness. According to Liepins, thanks in part to us, he is becoming recognized as a community influencer for native bee conservation.

Relishing this moment of being the 2017 Pollinator Advocate, Liepins realizes his bee house designs for solitary bees like the leafcutter bee and colonial bees like the federally listed endangered rusty patched bumble bee are making a profound impact.

The rusty patched bumble bee is the first bumble bee and the first bee in the continental U.S. to be federally listed under the Endangered Species Act. Historically, this bumble bee was commonly seen throughout its range, which was broadly distributed from Maine in the U.S. and southern Quebec and Ontario in Canada, south to the northeast corner of Georgia, reaching west to the eastern edges of North and South Dakota. Now their geographic distribution is only found in about 13% of this former range and population has declined by 87%. While evidence of the decline is clear, the causes are not fully understood. The probable causes include habitat loss, disease, pesticides, and climate change.

The Midwest is one of a handful of areas where the rusty-patched bumble bee is still found. This is an opportunity before us to help prevent the extinction of a species. Planting a native wildflower garden, even a container garden, is a way to help the species.

Good neighbor actions

Mason bees utilize nesting tubes in a bee house at Jordan River National Fish Hatchery. Photo by USFWS.
Mason bees utilize nesting tubes in a bee house at Jordan River National Fish Hatchery. Photo by USFWS.

Anyone can build a bee house and register it with Bee Kind MN (it’s not just for people in Minnesota). Upon registering, you will receive a welcome packet with an Official Bee Kind House Registration Certificate with your name and bee house registration number. If you live in Minnesota, you will also receive a packet of pollinator seeds to start your own pollinator garden, which helps the rusty patched bumble bee and all imperiled pollinator species. If you live outside of the state of Minnesota, they will send you a seed recommendation list for your area to start a pollinator garden.

You can also practice bee-friendly gardening and support natural areas in your community. Winter is great time to plan a garden. Research what native flowers, including flowering trees and shrubs are preferred by bees to your area. Aim to have something blooming at all times between mid-April and October. Volunteer to help restore or monitor natural areas for pollinators. If you have to use pesticides use them properly, apply them only where needed and avoid drift into nontarget areas.

Together, we can help the recovery of pollinators, especially with friends like Nikolas.