Williamstown Strives To Be More Bee Friendly

Oct 5, 2017

Last year, seven species of bees were place on the endangered species list, and Williamstown, Massachusetts wants to help save the rest of the bee population. 

Williamstown Selectwoman Anne O’Connor says pollinators are essential to growing crops and much of the plant life that grows in lush Berkshire vistas.

“It’s worth realizing that pollinators are not just honeybees, by any means,” O’Connor says. “It’s all native bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies – the list goes on.”

The University of Massachusetts at Lowell awarded Williamstown roughly $9,000 from its Toxics Use Reduction Institute to further the northern Berkshire County town’s efforts to become bee-friendly.

In May, residents approved a non-binding resolution to change residential and institutional landscaping practices.

“Embracing that decision, we wanted to find ways to extend the impact and bring the awareness of the issues facing pollinators to a wider audience and also help people figure out what they can do in their own gardens to help pollinators,” O’Connor says.

The goal: to reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides, thought to be one cause of declining bee populations.

“I am happy to say that Williamstown does not spray any of our extensive public lawn areas,” O’Connor says, “whether around our schoolyards or in our town greens.”

In March, the Clark Art Institute launched a similar initiative, opening an active beekeeping program on its Williamstown campus to help grow the native bee population. Its plan is to maintain 40,000 bees on the roof of the Clark’s research center.

O’Connor will help divvy up the grant to area organizations, including the South Williamstown Community Association, Williams College Center for Environmental Studies, Williams Inn, Williamstown Garden Club, and the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, among others, to encourage a lively bee population by:

“Reducing the mowing schedules, or planting pollinator-friendly forage,” O’Connor says.

Bridget Spann, owner of Caretaker Farm in Williamstown, says pollinators are vital to agriculture.

“The big issue is the neonicotinoids, and pollinators need to travel sometimes several miles,” Spann says. “So, for example, here at Caretaker Farm we don’t spray anything on our fields or on our crops; it’s not enough about what we do specifically here, but also what the surrounding areas do since pollinators travel up to a few miles to do their work.”

Massachusetts and several other states have been considering bills restricting the use of pesticides damaging to pollinators. Two bills under consideration on Beacon Hill would require pesticides and herbicides be limited to licensed applicators only.

“So, while the focus is pollinators, certainly human health and pet health stand to benefit,” Spann says.

In the spring, the town will hold training programs for organic landscaping for professionals and homeowners. Middle schoolers from the Williamstown area are also working with Willinet, the local public access television station, on a video about pesticides.