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Local News

Survey To Count Bumble Bee Populations in Utah To Start June

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Tonya Kieffer-Selby - Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
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Utah is home to a handful of rare bumble bee species. Across the Rocky Mountain range there’s been a 90% decline in some species.

 

 

  

There are 18 total bumble bee species in Utah, but it’s unclear what rare species populations look like throughout the state. 

Amanda Barth is the rare insect conservation coordinator with the Utah Department of Natural Resources. She said a couple of rare species live in Utah like the Western Bumble Bee.

"The western bumble bee used to be one of the most commonly seen bumblebees in the West," Barth said. "And the fact that we have very few records of it anymore, is it should be a big red flag."

She said there are a number of things that could be driving the decline. 

"There are a lot of factors that are driving bumble bee decline," she said. "Habitat loss is probably the biggest one that's really the biggest culprit for most pollinator decline. It's just habitat contamination, land use development. And climate change is absolutely happening, especially because bumblebees are found in these higher latitudes and higher altitudes. And if those habitats start warming, then it affects their, their seasonal patterns, and the types of plants that they rely on." 

 

She said pesticides are one of their largest concerns because of their long lasting presence in the environment. 

Barth said the state will team up with agency volunteers from various offices like BLM and the Forest Service to get a better idea on how many bumble bees are actually in the Beehive State. 

 

"When you start from scratch somewhere, you're basically establishing a baseline," she said. "And, you know, we're going to areas where we just have question marks, and we just don't know what kind of habitat is there, and what species are being supported are present." 

She said once they fill in the gaps they’ll be able use the data to see where Western Bumble bees occur in the state to start prioritizing healthy habitats. 

Barth said the data will also be an indicator about the larger picture of bumble bee species throughout the state. The insects, she said, are pretty generalist, if there’s a decline in some species it indicates a larger problem about environmental health and other species that are relying on these habitats. 

And community members can also get involved in citizen science to keep track of the pollinator species in the state. The Utah Pollinator Pursuit Project uses an app called Survey123 people can send in photos of bees and monarch butterflies they see in their backyard or on hikes.

The project launched in 2020, and in the first year, they received more than 500 observations across the state. 

"Which really gave us a lot more information than we had on where species were occurring and what time of year," she said. "And we got a handful of pretty rare species through just that opportunistic pilot endeavor."

Barth said it’s still a little early in the season for pollinator sightings, but by mid-May people should be able to catch the busy bees at work.

 
KPCW News reports on climate change issues are brought to you by the Park City Climate Fund at the Park City Community Foundation, an initiative that engages Park City in implementing local high impact climate solutions that have potential to be effective in similar communities.