Longhorns advocate for bees through activism, beekeeping

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Photo Credit: Amanda Saunders

Environment Texas, an environmental advocacy group, delivered a petition with over 10,000 signatures to the Texas Capitol in late July calling for the ban of a bee-killing pesticide, neonicotinoids.

While their goal was to gain attention for a national movement to save bee colonies, some Longhorns have been doing their part to help bees here on the Forty Acres.

Biology sophomore Emily Mitchell is the president of BEEVO, the beekeeping society at UT. She said all bees are important because of their role in pollination.

“Pollination is the driving force of so much plant life,” Mitchell said. “Without them, we wouldn’t have the plants we rely on so much.”

She said one goal of the beekeeping society is to spread awareness of environmental issues to help these insects.

“Growing pollen and nectar-rich plants is an amazing way to help pollinators get through the winter,” Mitchell said. “Healthy plants create healthy bees.”

Mitchell said people should be planting wildflowers such as firewheel, lemon balm and — of course — bee balm. She said bees need these plants to sustain themselves. When they aren’t available, bees tend to swarm trash cans and consume refined sugars that are bad for their health.

Mitchell also said ending the use of pesticides and herbicides would help the bee colonies greatly.

“We live in the environment, so a great way to get involved is activism,” Mitchell said. “It’s important to understand and learn about the organisms that make life possible. If not, you’re taking them for granted.”

Hayley Wood, rhetoric and writing senior, has been beekeeping for the past three years and is one of the head beekeepers for BEEVO, where she is an advocate for bees.

“Urban beekeeping is not so different from keeping other livestock, but they play a much more important role, and maybe they’re more important than cows and chickens,” Wood said.

Wood said beekeeping provides almost 70% of produce and bees evolved to have the best body to pollinate.

“(Bees are) extremely important to our agriculture system,” Wood said. “The need for them goes beyond just beekeepers. We all need to do our part for the bees, even the ones we don’t know are there.”

Wood said being a student and being an activist is one of the best combinations to get things done.

“At this time you’re learning so much,” Wood said. “You’re so excited and you’re frustrated. You can get a lot done with the right group to do it with.”

Avery McKitrick, director of the Campus Environmental Center, said student activism is incredibly important for preserving our environment.

McKitrick, who’s a former intern for Environment Texas, said the activism the advocacy group does is important in aiding all the creatures that live in various habitats affected by human activity.

“Environmental sustainability is an issue that encompasses multiple issues, (such as) social justice issues, public health issues,” McKitrick said. “It encompasses racism, sexism and even mass shootings.”

McKitrick said it’s the job of our generation to prevent the effects of carbon emissions by 2030, when the planet will reach a critical level of global warming according to a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

“That should be of interest to our generation because we will be the last ones to have the opportunity to fix this problem before it becomes irreversible,” McKitrick said.