Decatur can now be known as “Beecatur” after receiving its certification as the first official Bee City in Georgia.
A city commission vote in June made the Bee City title official through certification with the nonprofit organization Bee City USA. The program, launched in 2012 in Asheville, North Carolina, fosters dialogue in urban areas, certifying cities that can help raise awareness around the critical role pollinators play in sustaining plant species.
Common pollinators include bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, moths and beetles, according to Bee City USA.
Decatur resident and local beekeeper Deborah Palmer brought the idea before the city commission and presented reasons why pollinators are important and must be protected, she said.
“I think it is important for any city, township or neighborhood to be held accountable for the pollinators, and I see this as a way for Decatur to do that,” Palmer said. “Even before the designation, Decatur very much practices good habits around pollinator habitats, awareness and education. In a way, we were a Bee City before I put in for the resolution [...] so it is just natural to be a candidate for official designation.”
According to Palmer, honey bee populations and other pollinators are in jeopardy due to loss of habitats, diseases and the use of pesticides containing toxic neonicotinoids. Bee City USA’s website states the issue, dubbed “Colony Collapse Disorder,” first became widely apparent in 2006.
“You cannot overstate the plight of the pollinators and how much they contribute to our lives and everything we eat,” she said.
Palmer said many residents, local beekeepers and restaurant owners have already been paying attention to what they are planting in their gardens. Now, she said, the hope is to grow those practices.
With the certification comes a set of expectations from the nonprofit, including annually celebrating being a Bee City USA community through public awareness activities; publicly acknowledging commitment to the program through signage and web links; and annually reporting activities to renew the certification.
The Wylde Center, a Decatur-based nonprofit dedicated to educating and cultivating green spaces and building communities, will facilitate programs to help engage the community in promoting pollinator-friendliness, according to Wylde Center Director Stephanie Van Parys
Van Parys said some of the ways they are looking to educate the community on the cause will include a focus during their annual Earth Day festival in the spring; partnering with The Homestead Atlanta to promote bee classes; and working with local libraries to host additional bee education classes.
The center has a total of five gardens, two of them in Decatur, which are already focused on being pollinator friendly, Van Parys said. They are working on signage to place in the gardens to help educate the community on why certain plants are planted and how they can do the same thing, she said.
“We are super pleased to be partnering with Bee City USA and spreading that message that a city can become certified,” Van Parys said. “The qualifications for certification are easy. The biggest thing you have to do is education, and i think it gives cities an opportunity to do even more and get deeper into programming and education.”
Though Decatur is the first official Bee City, the city of Clarkston adopted a similar resolution in 2015 according to Mayor Ted Terry.
“There are several groups out there doing similar things regarding pollinators, and we modeled our ordinance on the Pesticide Action Network’s ‘Honey Bee Haven’ program,” Terry said. “What Decatur did is another nonprofit with the same mission. What Clarkston did is, for all intents and purposes, the same thing, just titled differently.”
Van Parys said being aware of which insects are inhabiting a garden and putting in plants that will be beneficial to that pollinator community is one important thing residents can do. Terry said instead of planting standard shrubbery, individuals can plant wildflowers instead.
He said they are also in talks to plant pollinator gardens and sunflowers along area railroad tracks. Railroads have been linked with higher rates of cancer, and he said sunflowers can pull heavy metals from the soil.
“This is a way we can support pollinators and also clean up the soil, making it healthier for humans,” he said.
Palmer said other easy ways to contribute include reducing use of pesticides, buying more organic products and going to local farmers markets.
Terry said there is a meeting planned between parties from both Clarkston and Decatur to collaborate on ways to plan pollinator habitats and encourage members of the private sector to not use harmful pesticides.
“We cannot ban pesticide use in private markets, but we can affect government policies and encourage individuals to not use neonicotinoids,” he said. “It is not too late, according to reports, and we can still re-grow and repopulate these pollinator populations by doing what we are talking about in these resolutions.”
Terry said he and Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett along with others will be pushing for more city councils in DeKalb to adopt similar policies.