OSU bee specialist works to keep Oregon pollinator friendly

Andony Melathopoulos

In response to the country’s worst urban bumblebee die-off in the country caused by improper pesticide use in 2015, the Oregon State Legislature passed a bill requiring more education for licensed pesticide applicators and creating a task force to focus on protecting bee health. The bill directed Oregon State University in consultation with the state Department of Agriculture to develop a State Pollinator Protection Plan.

Heading up the charge is Andony Melathopoulos, assistant professor and bee specialist at OSU, who was hired to take the lead. Working with ODA, he coordinates statewide activities to keep Oregon bees healthy. through the Oregon Bee Project.

“Oregon has many different species of bees and our task is to develop a road map to keep them healthy,” he said. “How do we make Oregon the best place for bees in the U.S.?”

You do what he’s been doing: training pesticide operators, traveling the state delivering talks, interacting with the public at events and passing out infographic postcards – 5,000 so far. He also started the popular podcast PolliNation, which has been downloaded 38,000 times in 70 nations.

He was one of the original participants who helped establish the Oregon Bee Project in January 2017 and is the chair of the steering committee. In June 2018, they released a strategic plan with educational and outreach targets. In less than two years, the project has coordinated an innovative cross-agency collaboration with ODA and Oregon Department of Forestry.

Melathopoulos developed a publication on guidelines for residential beekeeping. But honeybees are not the only bees in Oregon. A list of the hundreds of native bees in the state has never been done. So, he recruited 120 volunteers from the OSU Extension Master Gardener, Master Beekeepers and Master Naturalist programs. The result is the Oregon Bee Atlas, a survey of native bees found in the state. It’s expected to be finished by 2021. So far volunteers have collected records of 15,000 bees.

Of the 3,500 pesticide operators he’s trained, surveys show they’ve gone from 15 percent understanding of bee protection before training to 95 percent after the class. He has demonstrated that education can go a long way to keeping the state’s bees healthy.

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