Pollinators are in real peril. Not uncoincidentally, our food system, which is rooted in long-distance transportation, is also in dire straits. Our goal with Flight Path is to change that. It’s a model for airports everywhere: use scrub land to do something revolutionary: support a local food system through restoration ecology.
The Port of Seattle is the nation’s 9th busiest airport, with over 46 million visitors per year. Could there be a more unlikely place to develop sustainable ecosystems? In fact, the property is already home to a wealth of wild songbirds, and — through wetlands restoration — to salmon, herons, and amphibians. The transportation setting is the perfect place to talk about integrated solutions for our increasingly urbanized society.
Habitat for Bees
Instead of acres of invasive blackberry and scotch broom, the project introduces native plants to support the honey bees and wild bees on a former golf course. These plants can become seed farms for similar projects in the region, or even to create pollinator hedgerows on local farms. What had been “useless” land will now contribute to local bees and local food, which in turn will cut down on carbon emissions.
We’ve been tracking bee population abundance and diversity through out this process for five years so that we can identify how our work to increase habitat is affecting local bees. What we’ve found – IT’S WORKING – bee populations have increased over 70%!
Baseline bee surveys over the first four years at the airport identified 100 species in this location, verified with scientists from UW, UC-Davis, and USDA’s Logan Bee Lab at Utah State University. At least 1000 person-hours went into creating this unique reference collection, which will prove an invaluable measuring stick not only for us but for other researchers regionally and nationally. Continued surveys will show changes in the pollinator community as a result of our plantings. Our goal: positive effects on species biodiversity and abundance.
Honey Bee Help
We are raising Northwest, disease-resistant queen bees at our airport apiaries which are distributed to local beekeepers.
Our honey bee hives at the airport dramatize parallels to human society: honey bees, for instance, have solved a number of issues around transportation, density, and resource conservation. The number of “flight operations” at the airport pales in comparison to that of a beehive, with its 15,000 foragers per hive, each taking off and landing up to a dozen times per day. Meanwhile, Sea-Tac Airport — one of the nation’s busiest — saw a “mere” 932 flight operations per day in 2014. How do the bees do it?
Starting a Dialogue
We used the traffic inside the airport to stage an art exhibit, which ran from June 2014 through April 2015, and then went to Seattle City Hall for two months. With an estimated 2 million viewers, the exhibit helped introduce this important dialogue to travelers crossing the globe. We presented the airport in a parallel universe: not as a terminal surrounded by concrete, but as an art gallery surrounded by a farm. Meet the artists of Flight Path here.
We were awarded Port of Seattle’s Environmental Excellence Award in 2017.
On the Move
Flight Path 2.0 is being installed near Paine Field at Boeing‘s Everett Factory. This is especially exciting for us because Paine Field was the location one of the last recorded sightings of Bombus occidentalis, the Western Bumble Bee, in our region. Our survey team is now tracking wild bees there monthly in hopes of finding more!
Landing Near You?
Are you interested in developing a similar project at your airport? Whether are an elected official, a civil servant, a scientist, or just an interested party, please let us know!