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Yamhill County residents volunteer to collect overdue data concerning Oregon bee health and species

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Volunteers from the Oregon Bee Atlas are working alongside the Yamhill County Master Gardeners Association to do field sampling and surveying bees.

By Mollisande Williams

Newberg Graphic intern

Through the Yamhill County Oregon Bee Atlas group, county residents are volunteering their time to accumulate data that would in turn add to the knowledge of bee health and species in Oregon.

There are 500 estimated species of native bees in the state, but limited information is restricting further awareness of their current health condition, according to the Oregon Bee Atlas.

Compiling a list of bee species in the area would assist in future research. Having conducted no official surveys of Oregon bees, these volunteers are gathering data that has been long overdue.

Volunteers from the Oregon Bee Atlas are working alongside the Yamhill County Master Gardeners Association, primarily in doing field sampling and surveying bees.

Participants are led by Oregon State University Master Gardeners and are trained through the university to recognize the variety of bees located in the county. SUBMITTED PHOTO - Volunteers from the Oregon Bee Atlas are working alongside the Yamhill County Master Gardeners Association to do field sampling and surveying bees.

Michael O'Loughlin, a Master Gardener and the Yamhill County Oregon Bee Atlas coordinator, is heavily involved in the project. O'Loughlin owns a farm in McMinnville with his brother where they promote biodiversity. More than five different bee species can be spotted on his property.

When he isn't doing his own research on the farm, O'Loughlin arranges volunteer work for the Yamhill County Oregon Bee Atlas group.

He says they go out to sites at least every two weeks to collect bees. From there, they record the bee species and which flowers they were located on. The Oregon Department of Agriculture then records the gathered information.

O'Loughlin says there are now 10 regional groups, of which Yamhill County is one.

The project has been going on for a year and Yamhill County has been involved since the beginning.

"It's a really fun and active group and the training is really good. You do not have to be an entomologist to be involved," he said in an e-mail interview.

The Oregon Bee Atlas is an initiative of Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Oregon State University Pollinator Health Program and Oregon State Arthropod Collection and is made up of groups all across the state. It stems from The Oregon Bee Project, a diverse set of stakeholders who are exploring many ways to care for bees.

The Oregon Bee Atlas teaches members how to collect and curate bees, leading to accessible identification and furthers the knowledge of Oregon bee health.

Other helpful information can also be retrieved through this volunteer work, like bees' preferred floral resources and the status of native pollinators.

Their mission is to "train volunteers to explore Oregon counties, to seek out new native bee records for the state, to boldly go where no amateur melittologist (an expert specializing in bee studies) has gone before."

Anyone is qualified to join the team, as the necessary training is provided, and they are always looking for new members. The Oregon Bee Atlas also provides training, supplies and support for individuals willing to lead a group.

"You just have to care about bees and want to learn," O'Loughlin said.

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