Bombus mixtus pollinating black raspberry. (Photo by Mace Vaughan)

Bombus mixtus pollinating black raspberry. (Photo by Mace Vaughan)

How everyday gardeners can save bumblebees from extinction

Eric Lee-Mäder speaks for the bees. Namely, native bumblebees.

Although the honeybee is getting a lot of national attention for its plight, he said native pollinators including the bumblebee are suffering a far worse fate.

Habitat loss, pesticides and diseases have hurt nearly 50 of America’s bumblebee species essential to the natural ecosystem to where roughly a quarter of them are now at risk of extinction.

A pollinator conservation expert, Lee-Mäder will talk about how to help reverse the decline of bees and butterflies through gardening Jan. 20 at the second lecture of the Snohomish County Master Gardener Foundation’s 14th annual Sustainable Gardening Winter Speaker Series in Mukilteo.

His lecture will give an overview of the peril of the Northwest’s native bees and cover habitat restoration methods, pesticide risk mitigation and ways to support pollinator conservation.

While honeybees are a non-native species brought to America from Europe in the 17th century, Lee-Mäder said there are 4,000 species of native bees that have evolved with the local climate and landscape, making them better pollinators than honeybees.

“They are incredibly important animals,” he said. “Bees globally pollinate about 85 percent of all plant species on Earth and that includes two-thirds of the species we eat or feed to livestock. About a third of our daily diet is pollinator dependent.”

One bumblebee species of particular concern for the Northwest is the Western bumblebee.

The Western bumblebee was once the most common bee in Snohomish County — but now it’s nearly impossible to find.

“We could have gone out on a summer day in Everett 10, or 20 or 30 years ago and seen this bumblebee in the flowers in people’s yards, but today we can probably travel throughout Snohomish County and almost never find it,” Lee-Mäder said. “In King County, you really won’t find this bee.”

As co-director of pollinator conservation for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Lee-Mäder’s mission is to protect and restore habitat for bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

He and his team at Xerces work with farmers, land managers, gardeners and native plant nurseries all over the world, as well as agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, in the name of bees.

Since 2008, Lee-Mäder’s team has helped with the restoration of more than 250,000 acres of wildflower-rich pollinator habitat in the United States.

In addition to working with Xerces, he is a Whidbey Island farmer who sells native grass and wildflower seed through Northwest Meadowscapes, his company serving Washington and Oregon.

Lee-Mäder also is the author of numerous books and book chapters, including the “Attracting Native Pollinators, “100 Plants to Save the Bees” and “Farming with Beneficial Insects: Strategies for Ecological Pest Management.”

Here are four easy ways gardeners can help save the Northwest’s native pollinators:

Plant wildflowers. Historically, although the Northwest was heavily forested, it also was covered in wildflower-rich meadows that served as the perfect habitat for native pollinators. Recreate those wildflower meadows of the past in your own yards and gardens.

Avoid pesticides. Minimize or eliminate the use of insecticides, fungicides and herbicides that are harmful to the health of pollinators. Find non-toxic ways to manage pests in your home and garden at

Conserve nesting habitat. In addition to flowers, bees also need “messy” places to lay eggs and overwinter in your yard. Overgrown grasses, brush piles, logs and stumps serve as dwellings for bees when they’re not flying around.

Get involved. Buy food from farms that work to protect pollinators. Share how you’re helping to create bee habitat in your yard. Promote pesticide-free gardening in your community. Register your garden at

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; Twitter: @sarabruestle.

Winter Speaker Series

Are you stumped about what to get your favorite gardener for Christmas? Consider the Sustainable Gardening Winter Speaker Series by the Snohomish County Master Gardener Foundation.

The popular series of talks by Northwest gardening experts is $85 for eight classes or $20 for single sessions. All lectures are held 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. every other Friday, Jan. 6 through April 7, at Mukilteo Presbyterian Church, 4515 84th St. SW. Go to to register. For more information, call 425-357-6010. Some speakers will have books and plants to sell after their sessions.

“It’s really fun to get everyone together to talk about gardening in the winter when things are really slow outside,” said Bernie Wojcik, a Washington State University master gardener who is co-leading the speaker series. “It gives everyone spring inspiration.”

The following is the list of speakers, dates and lectures:

• Steve Smith,, Jan. 6, Banish Boring Yards Once and For All

• Xerces Society Pollinator Conservation Program co-director Eric Lee-Mäder, Jan. 20, Bring Back the Pollinators

• Far Reaches Farm,, Feb. 3, Plant Lust — It’s a Treatable Condition

• Lorene Edwards-Forkner,, Feb. 17, The Charismatic Landscape

• Bill Thorness,, March 10, Cool Season Gardening

• Edmonds Community College instructor Bess Bronstein, March 17, How to Successfully Prune Any Shrub

• Dan Hinkley,, March 31, Heronswood: Past, Present and Future

• Western Washington University adjunct professor, Jennifer Hahn, April 7, Pacific Feast: Where the Wild Things are Delicious

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