We’re going back to continue studying the bees and make a film about them. Before it’s too late.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a hotbed of bee diversity. It’s home to 660 species of bees. In contrast, the entire eastern United States has 770 species. Stop and think about this for a minute: an area the size of Delaware has nearly as many different bee species as every state east of the Mississippi River combined. The monument is a living lab for understanding the bee-flower relationships that are the basis of nearly every terrestrial ecosystem around the planet.
But in December 2017, President Donald Trump decided to reduce the size of Grand Staircase-Ecalante and open this land to increased human activity and development. What will happen to the bees? And why should we care?
Olivia Carril and Joseph Wilson spent several years in the backcountry of the monument studying the bees. That was almost 15 years ago. Now we’re going back with Olivia and Joe to do another round of studying the bees – and we’re going to make a film about what they discover and why Grand Staircase-Escalante is so important to our future.
The reason we’re doing this…
Bees are in trouble, right? Bee populations are declining?
The fact is, we don’t know for sure. Yes, we have strong evidence that some of the 4,000 bee species in North America are in trouble – the rusty-patched bumble bee is (sadly) a perfect example. But to document a decline, you have to have a baseline for comparison, and for the vast majority of bees species, across the vast majority of North America, we simply don’t have a good baseline.
But in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, we do. It’s one of the few places in North America where the bees have been studied extensively in an almost pristine and untouched natural environment. And this is extremely powerful knowledge to have as we continue changing the world to meet our human needs. We can, for example, compare nearby urban communities (like Salt Lake City, just five hours north) with the monument to see which bees are present – and which are missing. And when we see differences, what do they mean? Are there any indications of serious ecological trouble ahead? Primitive and protected lands like Grand Staircase-Escalante give us the knowledge we need to ask the right questions and make the right choices.
Studying changes in bee populations – or any insect population – requires time and patience. One thing we’ve learned from Olivia and Joe’s work in Grand Staircase-Escalante is that many bee species can be readily abundant one year, nearly absent the next, and then abundant again in some following year. Which means if you only compare two points in time, you’ll likely have a false sense of how well certain bees are faring in our modern world. You have to study bees consistently and regularly over many years to gain a true understanding of changes and stability in their communities.
We are at a critical time in our history, when understanding everything we can about pollinators and insects is essential to our shared future. Unfortunately, the changes being made to Grand Staircase-Escalante are proceeding with reckless abandon and zero consideration for the unique bee communities living there.
This is exactly why we’re going back. To learn even more about the bees. To call attention to how important this very special place is. And to make a film to share with all of you the wondrous world of the bees in Grand Staircase-Escalante.