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The Chippewa National Forest is buzzing this summer.


Things are buzzing on the Chippewa National Forest

Bee on a flowerThings have been buzzing on the Forest as US Forest Service employees have been conducting bee surveys throughout the Chippewa National Forest.

Four teams of two-four surveyors have been conducting surveys across the Forest, seeking rusty-patched bumble bees as well as other bumble bee species. Surveys seeking the rusty-patched and other bumble bee species began in 2017.

The teams have been surveying in July and August one-three days per week depending on weather, availability of crews, and the habitats subject to surveys. Ideal survey weather is warm, sunny days with little to just light winds. Survey locations on the Forest were selected to place crews in the known best available habitats, especially those proximate to sites where the species was previously detected.

Surveys for the species are ongoing nationwide; the findings are useful to assess populations, trends and habitat associations. Every detection better establishes the range and numbers of the species; allows the Forest to refine predictive models for finding and protecting critical habitat; and brings us closer to knowing when the species is recovered or otherwise considered no longer endangered.

Surveys for bumble bees on Chippewa National Forest use nonlethal methodologies. The bumble bees are typically captured in a jar while on a flower. The jar is placed in a cooler with ice for a brief period to cool down the bumble bee and make it lethargic. Once cooled down, the bumble bees are easily handled, examined and photographed as needed to identify the species and document the traits used to make the identification. The photographs are shared with taxa experts for verification, if a rare species is suspected. Care is taken to insure no harmful chemicals, such as insect repellants or pesticides, are not present on surveyors or equipment. Hands and materials are cleaned between usages to reduce the chance of transferring diseases between bumble bees. Once the bumble bees warmup again, they fly away and resume foraging on flowers. Well experienced surveyors are frequently able to identify common species as they fly or forage on a flower, so capture is not necessary.

The Rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in January 2016. The species’ population has declined by 90 percent in the past 20 years. Rusty-patched bumble bees have been found three times at three different locations on the Forest over the past 17 years. The tricolored bumble bee (Bombus ternarius) is frequently confused with the rusty-patched bumble bee. The tricolored bumble bee has bold orange to rust colored bands around its abdomen. The rusty-patched bumble bee may have a relatively faint, small rust colored patch on its abdomen, or no rust coloring at all.

Plantings for pollinators, such as bumble bees and butterflies, were intentionally implemented in permanent openings on the Forest in 1994.

The Walker Ranger District office has planted native wildflowers and grasses for pollinators at the site of the office. Visitors can stop by and see how many bee species they can find before this summer comes to an end!   Bee surveys recently completed at the office revealed a total count of 114 bees that comprised seven different species. This abundance and richness in bee diversity can largely be attributed to the multiple species of wildflowers seeded shortly after the walker office’s construction. Flowering plants such as monarda, yellow cone flower, black-eyed susan, purple prairie clover, fireweed, prairie sunflower, and mountain mint are key food sources for native bees, which in turn serve as pollinators to further perpetuate these species.