Laura Ferguson shares a moment with her beehive at Jackson WellSprings in Ashland Thursday. - Jamie Lusch

The Buzz on Bees

The native Franklin's bumblebee (Bombus franklini) may already be extinct, and the western bumblebee is rarely seen in the Rogue Valley anymore, says Southern Oregon University associate professor of biology Peter Schroeder.

He'd like to do something about it.

Schroeder will talk about pollinators of the Rogue Valley, what affects them and how to avoid hurting them during a Protecting Our Pollinators forum Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Talent library, 101 Home St.

The public is welcome to hear Schroeder and other speakers at the event, which is sponsored by the city's Together for Talent Committee.

"There's not only honey bees, but bumblebees, orchard bees, carpenter bees. There's a long list of bees that act as pollinators," says Schroeder. "We have almost 30 species of bumblebees in the valley."

Bees are critical to the pollination of plants — from agricultural fields to home flower beds. Disappearance of bumble bees and colony collapse in honeybees has experts worried about future pollination.

Bombus franklini were last seen locally in 2006. They had been in decline over the previous decade in Douglas, Jackson and Josephine counties in Oregon and Siskiyou and Trinity counties in California. Bombus occidentalis, the western bumblebee, is rarely seen in the valley, says Schroeder.

"Other bumblebees have held their own, so it is really on a bee-to-bee basis," says Schroeder. Non-native honeybees, which are maintained by beekeepers in hives, are prolific pollinators.

"No other single pollinator compares to bees," says Schroeder. "Spiders carry pollen, also rodents, birds and bats, butterflies, moths and some beetles, but bees are specialists. That's what they do: visit flowers for nectar and pollen."

Bumblebees pollinate earlier and longer during the day and can handle adverse weather better than other bees, says Laura Ferguson, director of the College of the Melissae (Greek for honeybee), who also will speak at the forum.

Mason bees are stingless and can be encouraged by purchasing Mason bee houses — small tubes they will inhabit — from hardware or garden stores, says Ferguson.

"Bumblebees get displaced by development, so there are isolated populations that eventually fail," says Ferguson. "Four species of bumblebees in Southern Oregon are threatened with extinction or are already extinct."

Declines in native bees will lead to a decline in native plants, says Ferguson. Honeybees are voracious pollinators and they can sustain native plants while the native populations get re-established, she said.

Pollinators can be supported by stopping use of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, says Ferguson. Schroeder recommends planting a mix of flowers to bloom from spring into fall to provide bees with a constant source of nectar and pollen.

Those who use pesticides should spray late at night or early in the morning, says Schroeder. Pollinators are most active in the middle of the day. Pesticides with a longer residual life on plants are more toxic to bees.

Beekeeper Dolly Warden, who also will speak, says dandelions are an important early spring flower for bees, although many people regard them as a weed. Dandelion pollen is moderately nutritious and the nectar is abundant.

Warden will discuss the path to Talent becoming a Bee City USA, a designation conferred on cities by the Bee City USA organization of Asheville, N.C.

Warden presented a proposal on the designation to the Talent City Council at its Wednesday meeting. Councilwoman Darby Stricker urged the body to move forward on the designation, says Warden.

For information about the forum, contact Warden at 541-897-0065 or

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at

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