We’re extending the deadline!

Image of road from inside a truck.

Important news, everyone: We’re extending our ioby campaign through the end of April! Figuring out this crowdfunding piece of the project has been a fascinating learning experience. And one thing we’ve learned is that while one month might be enough time to build momentum – we need two months to keep it rolling!

Our crowdfunding total has been slowly climbing towards our goal, so we want to give that time to continue. Many people have reached out to us and asked if March is the only time they can contribute – would there be ways to add support in the following weeks? We also have some really exciting things coming our way in the next month. And, as previously mentioned, working with ioby means we get to keep whatever amount we raise, which will help cover our cost for getting back on the ground. So, for all these reasons, we’ve decided to push our crowdfunding deadline to April 30.

Big thanks to all of you who have contributed to the Bees of Grand Staircase-Escalante so far! We are most grateful! And we’re absolutely thrilled for the opportunities ahead.

More soon!

Meet Tony, our director of photography

Image of fim crew in desert road.

For a project like this to succeed, you need to have someone who is both gifted and experienced at the art of visual storytelling. And Tony Di Zinno is our man!

I first met Tony in the Black Hills of South Dakota, shooting photos and film for a three-day musical and cultural gathering of the Lakota Sioux and other Native people. As we maneuvered on the edges of both stage and meeting grounds, seeking the perfect angles from which to tell the story of this event, Tony’s mastery of the lens was obvious. And the respect he conveyed as a guest in this special place was evident in everything he said and did.

Image of Native American performer on stage.

Tony’s career has been one of telling beautiful stories of endurance and fortitude, environmental activism, and social justice. Tony got his start working for a Rolling Stone photographer, then broke out on his own shooting portraits and action shots of iconic sports figures for Adidas, Nike and The North Face. He moved on to photographing and filming extreme motorsports and human-powered racing events across the globe, and eventually landed in Afghanistan working with Mountain2Mountain – a project that operates in conflict zones to create education and opportunity for women and girls to be agents of change within their own communities.

“I’ve never tolerated bullies of any kind since I was a kid,” says Tony, speaking of the social issues he’s embraced. “This really hasn’t changed as I’ve grown up. In fact, it’s only become a deeper conviction.”

Tony currently works with the Endangered Activism project, which is focused on engaging youth culture and reconnecting young people with the natural world through uniquely modern visual storytelling.

One of the things I admire most about Tony is his mantra of preparation. “It’s only the best prepared who are ready for when the most fleeting, ephemeral and sublime moments present themselves,” he says. There may be no better example of this mantra in practice than a recent trip to Botswana, where Tony captured on film a leopard hunting and striking its prey. It was such a rare moment that even the guide he was working with couldn’t believe they saw it happen. (Be forewarned: the following video captures a moment of Nature that is truly red in tooth and claw.)

“When something happens so quickly and there is no warning, the reward only goes to those who have prepared for success in anticipation of these possibilities,” says Tony. It’s exactly this level of preparation and discipline that we’ll need to film the bees in Grand Staircase-Escalante. We may only get one chance to capture any given moment of their exquisite little lives.

Tony’s thoughtful way of being in the world and his vast experience have helped this project become what it is today. Telling the story of the monument bees has not been an easy one; it started out as a print story and tripped plenty of times in the pursuit of publication – including having different media outlets show interest in the story and then back away. When I was at one of my lowest moments in the journey, it was Tony who asked, “Have you ever considered making a documentary to reach even more people than any single article could?”

I had not, of course. So I responded, “Have you ever considered working on a documentary about bees in one of the most beautiful places on Earth?”

Fortunately for all of us, Tony didn’t just recognize the opportunity for making this story even more impactful; he was also game to take it on.

You can read more about Tony on our Team page.

“If you don’t meet your goal, is the project still a go?”

Image of people and truck on desert rocks.

An excellent question. And the answer is: Yes!

Everyone on the team is committed to carrying out this research and producing a film to share with all of you. If we don’t meet our fundraising goal before we hit the ground in the spring, then of course we’ll need to adjust how we spend our funds. But we’re still moving forward with our plans.

The wonderful thing about working with ioby is that we get to keep whatever amount we end up raising. Which means every contribution – no matter how big or how small – makes a difference!

And when the crowdfunding campaign ends, that doesn’t mean our fundraising efforts are done. Far from it! Our ioby campaign is just one of several sources of support that we’re pursuing. In fact, we’re going to be fundraising right up until the moment we hit the road and head back to the monument. (And then fundraising again the moment we get back for future stages of the project.)

So, whatever amount we raise before returning to Grand Staircase-Escalante this spring will absolutely help cover the costs of getting back there. Which makes sharing this exquisite little world of bees with you – and the world – so much easier!

Many thanks and much gratitude to everyone who has already contributed!

Meet Olivia and Joe, our bee researchers

Image of researchers in monument area.

Olivia and Joe are an amazing pair of researchers to be working with on a project like this. Their knowledge of bees is astounding; their passion for bees is inspiring. To get just a flavor of what they bring to the study of these little creatures, check out the book they co-authored – literally “the book” on bees in North America – filled with amazing photographs they’ve captured over the years.

But it’s not as if either Olivia or Joe were necessarily destined for melittological* greatness. So how did they end up at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in the early 2000s doing such important work?

Image of Olivia in monument area.

“I never thought to myself: I’m going to go to college and I’m going to learn about bees,” says Olivia. “That wasn’t really the plan.”

Olivia’s plan, such as it existed, was to find a career that paid her to spend time outside – and becoming a biologist was just the ticket. But as a freshman she had to find a job to make ends meet while in pursuit of her goals. The bulletin boards on campus were tacked full of “now hiring” notes fringed with tear-off phone numbers for countless different opportunities.

“But there was one that said something about a museum and bees or something,” recalls Olivia. And the pay was higher than all of the others. “So that seemed pretty good.”

She applied for and got the job – which turned out to be a position working in a giant museum of bees. “These were all bees on pins, specimens from around the world,” she says. There were brilliant green and blue bees; huge bees and tiny bees; bees with tongues so long that they wrapped all the way around their bodies. “They were beautiful and intriguing and not at all what I expected. And I got paid to have to look through these drawers all of the time.”

Very quickly her boss (and later her mentor) recognized that this was more than just part-time employment for Olivia. So when he received funding to do a survey of the bees in Pinnacles National Monument in California, her boss asked Olivia if she would like to be the collector.

Olivia jumped at the opportunity. “I would go out with a net and hike the trails and collect bees,” she says. “I had to camp for three months straight which was like a dream come true! My life was perfect! By the end, I was insanely hooked on learning more about bees.”

Right around the end of Olivia’s senior year, Grand Staircase-Escalante was officially designated as a monument; the land was specifically set aside as a place for scientific research. Olivia and her mentor put together a proposal to do a big, intense bee survey of the area. “Definitely bigger and more intense than what I’d done in Pinnacles,” she says.

Needless to say, they got the funding. The project ran for four years (2000-2003), and the knowledge it produced is the basis for the research we’re returning to do this spring.

Image of Joe in monument area.

Joe’s story is a little different in that, for as long as he can remember, he’s always been interested in insects. In fact, he grew up wanting his backyard to be a nature sanctuary, and spent his time looking under rocks and logs for creatures that populated his homemade preserve.

But like Olivia, Joe was drawn to bees later in life for practical reasons.

“I got into bees because in college I met this girl that I was interested in,” he says with an unabashed smile. The girl’s name was Lindsey, and she and Joe are now married with a family. “She came back from a summer-long job in the Grand Staircase National Monument. I liked her so I volunteered in the lab she worked in and it happened to be the bee lab.”

The job in the monument was, of course, surveying bees. And their lab boss was Olivia.

“Lindsey told me I ought to consider hiring this guy Joe for the next year because he was totally into natural history, he was great with a net, and he already had his own insect collection,” recalls Olivia. So she interviewed Joe and quickly brought him on board. The following summer, he was out in the monument helping uncover this amazing world of bees.

“That experience worked out pretty well for them,” Olivia says with a smile.

It worked out well for all of us. Because of Olivia and Joe – and Lindsey and the entire team they’ve worked with – we now have incredible insight into this hotspot of bee diversity. And the bees have two smart and passionate advocates in their corner.

You can read more about Olivia and Joe on our Team page.

* melittology (mel·​it·​tol·​o·​gy | \meləˈtäləjē\) n. a branch of entomology concerning the scientific study of bees.

The Fundraising Tour

Just returned from several days on the road talking up the Bees of Grand Staircase-Escalante, fundraising, and getting to meet some of the coolest people in the bee biz. (Also preparing for another fundraising event this coming weekend.)

The Bee Lab

First stop on the trip was the USGS Bee Lab in Maryland to visit with with Sam Droege. Sam and his crew have made a lot of amazing contributions to the world of biological fieldwork and field research, but his up-close-and-personal photos of bees and other insects have been absolutely inspiring to me. Check out the Lab’s every-growing collection of images on Instagram and Flickr.

Image of Sam Dreoge at microscope.

The Smithsonian

Next stop was a visit to the bee collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC! I had a great conversation with Sean Brady, Silas Bossert, and Chris Meyer about bees, research practices, and maintaining a biological collection of this size (no small feat).

Image of big Indonesia bees.

They also took me on a tour of the collection. You know that giant Indonesian bee that was recently rediscovered? The Smithsonian has a pair of specimens. They’ve also got a couple specimens of Franklin’s bumble bee – which has most likely gone extinct in North America, almost completely unnoticed.

Images of bumble bee specimens.

The Fundraising

Over the weekend I attended two fundraising events for the project in the Washington DC area. I was thrilled with how many people came out to watch the trailer and talk about our project! It’s always great to be in a room full of people who are genuinely interested and want to know more. Many thanks to everyone who joined us and have since supported the project!

This weekend we’ll be hosting another fundraising event at home in the Finger Lakes of New York state. Looking forward to another viewing of the trailer and more great conversation about the bees of Grand Staircase-Escalante. If you’re in the area, come join us!

Reward for you: Special thanks in the film credits

Image of film credits.

Wh-What?!? Our ioby fundraising campaign for this project passed the $5,000 mark on Sunday night and kept on moving today! This deserves a little bit of love in return. So how about this: Everyone who contributes to the campaign will get a special thanks in the film credits! Because no matter the amount, it’s your support that’s making this essential science and the film documenting it possible.

You rock, my friends!

Why do we need to crowdfund bee research?

Image of bee collection.

It’s only been a few days and our ioby campaign for the Bees of GSENM is off to a fantastic start! We ended our third day $3,327 closer to our goal. Thank you to everyone who has given to the project so far. Let’s keep this rolling.

Of course, this whole project raises an interesting question: Why do we need to crowdfund fieldwork and research on bees? Aren’t there official agencies that provide money for projects like this? The answer is not a satisfying one.

The Atlantic has a great story about the recent “Insect Apocalypse” headlines, exploring how we really need more data to make such bold statements (although the data we do have definitely points in this direction). The piece addresses funding as part of the problem:

Few researchers have kept running tallies on insect populations, aside from a smattering of species that are charismatic (monarch butterflies), commercially important (domesticated honeybees), or medically relevant (some mosquitoes). Society still has a lingering aversion toward creepy crawlies, and entomological research has long been underfunded. Where funds exist, they’ve been disproportionately channeled toward ways of controlling agricultural pests. The basic business of documenting insect diversity has been comparatively neglected, a situation made worse by the decline of taxonomists—species-spotting scientists who, ironically, have undergone their own mass extinction.

What’s more, the funding that could be available for monitoring bee and other insect populations are getting much harder to come by. Over the past decade, there’s been a flattening of federal spending on basic research (defined as “activity aimed at acquiring new knowledge or understanding without specific immediate commercial application or use”) and there are more and more scientists competing for this same pool of money. The overwhelming majority of federal science funding goes to biomedical research, and what money remains typically goes to projects that get flashy results – not projects focused on monitoring or replication of results.

A team of journalists at Vox put together an extensive piece about the problems facing science, including another really important point about funding:

Grants also usually expire after three or so years, which pushes scientists away from long-term projects. Yet as John Pooley, a neurobiology postdoc at the University of Bristol, points out, the biggest discoveries usually take decades to uncover and are unlikely to occur under short-term funding schemes.

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 you have to study bees consistently and regularly over many, many years to gain a true understanding of changes and stability in their communities. The current system of science funding in the United States simply is not conducive to this type of work.

“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” says Joe. “We have these questions about bees and other insects we need to answer, and nobody is willing to put forward the efforts or the funding or the resources to let us answer those questions.”

This is exactly why we’re crowdfunding the Bees of GSENM project. We want to get Joe and Olivia back on the ground to continue doing the essential fieldwork that needs to be done. Grand Staircase-Escalante is one of the few places in North America where the bee community has been studied extensively and can serve as a baseline for assessing change – both in comparing our man-made world to the natural world, and in comparing the natural world to itself over time.

“Baseline data allows us to ask the right questions and to guide our actions,” says Olivia. “What’s more, it allows us to watch for change in Grand Staircase’s own bees – in the face of the incredible change to land use now likely to occur here.”

This is exactly why your support for this project matters so much: You are helping make essential insect research possible. We thank you. And so will the bees!