Bee Buddy: Boy Scout builds park for pollinators

HAVENSVILLE — A dozen butterflies took to the air as Kyler Bernritter walked past patches of daisies, butterfly bushes and black-eyed Susans.

 

The conspicuous bugs fluttered around the garden he built this summer near a small playground at the edge of town. The little patch of colorful flowers appeared to be doing its job — attracting pollinators like butterflies and bees. Dubbed the Havensville Bee Park, Bernritter’s garden and a “Be a Bee Buddy” campaign aim to educate the public about the importance of such insects. The 14-year-old, an amateur beekeeper, will wrap up the Boy Scouts of America Eagle Scout project later this fall.

“They’re extremely important to us,” Bernritter said of bees. “Basically, one out of three bites we eat needs bees.”

Beepocalypse?

Across the country, bee populations, primarily honey bees, have been declining. About 52 percent of bee species studied were in some stage of decline or endangerment, a February report from the Center for Biodiversity showed.

The decline, called “colony collapse disorder,” was first noticed in 2006. An annual survey of nearly 5,000 beekeepers from Bee Informed, a nonprofit partnership between multiple research universities, including the University of Maryland and Texas A&M, showed nearly a third of colonies died in the past year. The largest decline, between 2012 and 2013, saw more than 45 percent of colonies were lost. That’s significantly higher than the expected winter loss of 15 to 18 percent, according to the report.

The mysterious deaths can’t be blamed on one culprit, said Jeff Whitworth, Kansas State University extension specialist in entomology. The overuse of pesticides and herbicides is likely a leading factor, along with destruction of bee habitats, disease, and the increase of harmful species like mites and Africanized bees.

“There’s not really one problem pinned down,” he said. “It could be any or all of these factors.”

The decline has hit bees on the coasts and to the south hardest, largely sparing Kansas bees, he said.

It’s not totally clear why Midwest bees aren’t dying as quickly, but one possibility is agriculture. In areas where bees saw the most decline, the southeast and southwest, citrus plants dominate commercial growing. Those crops rely on pollinators like bees, unlike Midwest crops like wheat, corn and sorghum, Whitworth said. That means bees in Kansas are less likely to come into contact with commercial pesticides.

During the spring, Whitworth’s department took several calls from people concerned about bee swarms around or near their house. Such swarms usually indicate growing, healthy bee populations, he said.

“We’ve been really fortunate in Kansas,” he said.

Beeville

Gardens like the Havensville Bee Park are vital to maintaining healthy bee populations.

Summertime vegetable and flower gardens can’t support bees on their own, which is why Bernritter, a student in Onaga USD 322 and a member of Boy Scout Troop 64, planted flowers that bloom throughout the year. He chose the plants based on their ability to attract pollinators, but gave preference to plants native to northeast Kansas and those with colorful blooms, like rose of Sharon and lavender.

No bees were seen visiting the park on a recent evening, likely because they had pollinated earlier in the day, but the flowers were clearly popular with butterflies. Dozens of pollinators, including humming birds, will enjoy the habitat, Bernritter said, but he chose bees as the focus because of his own passion for the colonizers. He maintains three hives of his own.

“They work together,” he said. “They’re their own society.”

When finished, the park will feature trees on each corner, vine-covered trellises, benches and a bird bath. In the center, an awning-covered informational board will provide details about bees and other pollinators. A Facebook page dedicated to the park will also be a source of information. After Bernritter graduates high school, he said the city of Havensville has agreed to maintain the park and he hopes future generations will learn from his work.

“It’s really about educating the community about these little insects and how important they are to humans,” he said.

Bernritter’s mother, Suzanne, said the community has rallied around the project. He raised about $3,000 to fund the park and to the “Be a Bee Buddy” campaign. Dozens of volunteers are helping construct the park, which is about half the size of a tennis court. Havensville has a population of about 130.

“The project is about Kyler leading others,” she said.

The efforts have garnished him the name “Bee Boy,” his mother said. He shrugged off the title saying, “I like bees, so I guess that’s fine.”

Contact reporter Luke Ranker at (785) 295-1270 or @lrankerNEWS on Twitter. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/lukeranker.

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