Eager for another field trip, I recently visited the SUNY New Paltz campus in New Paltz, NY. The college campus, situated on over 209 acres, has a range of habitat types and is close to forests, farms, and wetlands in the Hudson Valley. The campus itself sits within the Saw Mill Brook Watershed. In 2018, a group of passionate SUNY New Paltz students, faculty, and staff formed a Biodiversity Initiative to support and protect different living organisms on the campus and in the region. By 2019, the campus had earned its Bee Campus USA certification.
An initiative of the Xerces Society, Bee Campus USA advocates for pollinators and aims to make college campuses a better place for them. To become certified, applicants must meet several criteria. The first step is to establish a Bee Campus USA committee to advocate for pollinators. The committee must ensure that the campus meets several requirements: creating pollinator habitats using native plants, reducing pesticide use, offering continuing education opportunities that incorporate pollinator conservation, and posting signage focused on pollinator conservation. SUNY New Paltz set out to meet all of these criteria when they came up with their Campus Pollinator Habitat Plan, which included ways to create new pollinator habitats and minimize harm.
A Pollinator Meadow replaced an expanse of lawn on the southern end of the campus. According to the Pollinator Plan, the grounds crew will only mow this area once a year to every other year to return native grasses and wildflowers. Less mowing will directly benefit wildlife, but it will also reduce carbon emissions and lower fuel and labor costs for the college. The meadow was also lightly seeded with native, pollinator-supporting species, chosen carefully from nurseries and seed companies that do not use neonicotinoid pesticides, known to harm pollinators.
When I visited the campus, I was impressed with the biodiversity that was present. Several fields, a large pond, and forested areas all provided habitat for numerous species right on campus. From ducks and geese down to bees and butterflies, the site seemed to welcome and support a diverse array of species.
Imagine my delight when I discovered tall thistles, a native annual wildflower, growing on the edge of one of the fields. Pollinator magnets, thistles provide ample nectar and pollen as well as seeds for birds and other wildlife. These and other native wildflowers were in abundance across campus.
I applaud the work that SUNY New Paltz and other Bee Campus USA certified campuses are doing to protect our pollinators. Habitat loss is causing a drastic decline in pollinator numbers, and it is encouraging to see an educational institution stand up and take notice and take action. And the word is spreading! Other college campuses are pledging to be pollinator-friendly and have incorporated plans to become more conscientious by creating and protecting pollinator habitat.
I enjoyed my visit to the Bee Campus USA certified SUNY New Paltz. It gave me hope that, if this trend continues to spread, pollinators will gain habitats in which they can live and thrive. These certified colleges will earn more than biodiversity on their campuses; they will gain life-long pollinator advocates in their students. And pollinators can certainly use some more of those.