The Allegheny Land Trust and Point Park University want to tap your detective skills this summer. They’re recruiting regular people to help with the “citizen science” component of Project Bee Watch, happening in Sewickley.

Unlike “green” volunteering that involves digging in the dirt or picking up litter, your mission here is more like a police stakeout, without the criminals: You’re asked to sit quietly in the field watching bees and butterflies.

As you sit, you’ll spend time identifying the types of native bees and other pollinating insects that visit the 161-acre Audubon Greenway Conservation area, which is owned and maintained by Allegheny Land Trust.

Project Bee Watch will focus on 17 acres of field in the area.

Fields at the Audubon Greenway Conservation area. Image courtesy of Allegheny Land Trust.

Volunteers don’t need to be “bee savvy,” says Emilie Rzotkiewicz, vice president of land resources for Allegheny Land Trust.  Training and a handy visual guide will be provided.

“This is the ideal scenario for someone who enjoys just sitting outdoors,” Rzotkiewicz says. “We’re asking them for their eyes.”

Stemming the dramatic decline

The project is meant to further research by Point Park environmental science professor Dr. Matthew Opdyke, who will oversee the volunteers. It will also advance Allegheny Land Trust’s mission of turning the green space into a habitat ideal for pollinating insect species.

To help support bee populations here, Lindsay Dill, marketing communications director for Allegheny Land Trust, says that they’ve installed boxes for mason bees on the property and are planting native grasses and wildflowers known to attract certain pollinators.

Point Park will actively monitor the project, hopefully learning things about these bees and their habitat that could help our region increase its bee populations, says Dill.

The project will also strengthen a separate existing initiative backed by Bayer’s Feed a Bee project, which focuses on restoring pollinator forage in every state by the end of 2018. Allegheny Land Trust has one of 112 Feed a Bee-funded projects in 39 states and Washington, D.C.

Project Bee Watch and Feed a Bee are especially critical considering the dramatic, years-long decline in global bee populations, which has been attributed to various factors, including the overuse of certain pesticides, disease and habitat loss. The loss of bees is worrying as many types of plants, including fruit and vegetable crops, depend on pollination to thrive.

As a press release about Project Bee Watch states, North America has about 4,000 species of native bees, and more than 300 species occur in Pennsylvania, including bumble bees, sweat bees and mason bees.

Besides attracting bees back to the region, Dill believes the project will help mark Allegheny Land Trust’s 25th anniversary. Over that period of time, they have worked to ensure that 2,200 acres in the region are permanently available as green space. For example, the area where Project Bee Watch will take place was a hay field before the organization decided to transform it into a haven for pollinators.

“It’s one of those conservation areas that we have been building up over the years,” says Dill, adding that they have a few more projects underway that would expand Audubon Greenway’s acreage. “It’s a continuing story of protecting land in the Pittsburgh region.”

Volunteers will need to attend a training session at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 19 at Audubon Greenway, 160 Magee Road. Interested in becoming a volunteer? Contact Professor Matthew Opdyke at [email protected].

The Land Trust is also seeking volunteers to help with the Pollinator Festival happening on Saturday, July 28 at Audubon Greenway, which will include displays, walks and presentations about the pollinators being studied.