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Feature Story
The Vanishing
Page 4

In the long run, our own survival is deeply entwined with the lives of bees. And the bees' survival depends on the ways we manage not only rural farms, but also city parks and gardens and the landscape of suburban America, where native bees can survive in even small patches of habitat, such as native shrubs and plants. "There's an economic benefit to taking care of native bees," says Thorp. "But until people understand this, they won't spend time and effort on it."

Full Belly Farm, an organic operation where Kremen and her research team spent five years studying pollination, has begun to plant hedgerows of native shrubbery to nurture native bees. Other organic farmers in California's Yolo and Solano counties are following Full Belly's lead. Convincing conventional farmers that it's worth their while to do the same -- and to limit their use of pesticides as well -- poses a greater challenge, requiring major shifts in attitude and focus.

In his time, Thorp has seen many acres of native bee habitat vanish beneath plows and under pavement. Some of the data he gathered as a young man are now being used by a new generation of scientists as a baseline to measure the bee diversity that has been lost. Yet Thorp is not a pessimist. He describes a recent trip to the southern Central Valley, a place now dominated by vast fields of cotton, safflower, and alfalfa. For much of the year -- when the crops are not blooming -- these fields, devoid of flowering weeds, are about as welcoming to pollinators as the surface of the moon. Yet in cracks in the ground, in the ditches between crop rows, Thorp found what he had not dared to hope for: the nests of wild sweat bees.

Wrecking the Rockies
Paradise Drowned
In Verse

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Photos: Dan Winters

OnEarth. Summer 2006
Copyright 2006 by the Natural Resources Defense Council