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ESF Becomes an Affiliate of Bee Campus USA

The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), the most distinguished institution in the nation that focuses on the study of the environment, is pleased to announce it's been accepted into the Bee Campus USA program.

"Pollinators' role in the environment cannot be underestimated," said ESF President Joanie Mahoney. "ESF's dedication to increasing bee habitat furthers the College's commitment to lead by example and practice what we teach."

The joint Bee Campus USA and Bee City USA program is a growing network of 137 universities and 156 cities across America that have pledged to protect wild pollinators and the critical services they provide to our planet.

A primary component of Bee Campus USA is the installation of pollinator habitat using native plants, to provide forage, nesting sites, and shelter from disturbance for many of the more than 400 species of bees native to New York, along with hundreds of other species of pollinating flies, wasps, butterflies and moths, and hummingbirds.

ESF received its designation on Earth Day, April 22.

"It couldn't be more fitting that ESF's acceptance into the Bee Campus program came on Earth Day," said Molly Jacobson, pollinator ecologist for ESF's Restoration Science Center and co-chair of ESF's Bee Campus committee. "The students, staff, and faculty are dedicated to making impactful changes to our campus that will benefit pollinators and people alike, and those changes start here and now. We hit the ground running this spring, with much more to come!"

ESF held its first Bee Campus planting during Earth Week, engaging students and faculty to enhance the long-standing Northern Hardwood Forest Restoration Area near Illick Hall with several woodland wildflowers that offer important pollen and nectar sources for spring-flying bees. The event was attended by New York State Senator Rachel May, who did the honor of planting the first trillium.

"ESF already excels at the number of native plants used in our campus landscaping," said Jacobson. "But until now, providing for pollinators specifically hasn't been a goal in mind, and there's more we can improve, such as incorporating a bloom turnover from spring through fall, and a diversity of plant families to support specialist bees and caterpillars, the latter of which feed almost all of our songbirds. There are many areas of our campus grounds that remain underutilized for their ecological, biocultural, and aesthetic potential, and so we're excited to work with our grounds crew and with a diverse set of faculty to make this campus the best it can be. I hope it will inspire others to take this same pledge in their backyards."

"The circumstances couldn't be more ideal to launch this initiative at ESF at this time," said Dr. Donald Leopold, Distinguished Teaching Professor, and expert on native plant species. "The grounds department, under Sue Fassler's leadership, is enthusiastically supporting this program and Molly's unique expertise in pollination ecology makes our membership highly credible." Fassler is the College's director of sustainable operations.

"The ESF Grounds Department, much like the bees, are always busy working to make an impact on our campus community," said Mike Vargason, ESF's grounds supervisor, who has been a key point of collaboration on this venture. "ESF being accepted as a Bee Campus, especially on Earth Day, is an exciting opportunity to add new plantings around campus to ensure our environmental uniqueness, beliefs, and practices continue to evolve."

More native habitat plantings are planned for 2022, to redesign portions of campus around Bray and Illick halls, including updated campus signage to educate the public about native pollinators and ESF's affiliate status. A dedicated page on the Sustainability Division website will soon be available for people to stay up-to-date on Bee Campus activities and find resources such as a campus native plant list, local native plant suppliers, and a campus Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan. Currently, students and visitors to campus can engage with Bee Campus by contributing photo observations to the ESF Pollinators project on the citizen science app iNaturalist, and by following the ESF Restoration Science Center on Facebook and Instagram.

"It's especially exciting to see the interest in this initiative among our students from all programs," said Leopold. "How can one not be fascinated by this group of insects that provide such significant ecological function? It's something that everyone can rally around."

Visit Bee Campus USA and iNaturalist to learn more about the project.