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    Bees on a plane? Sea-Tac's honeycomb habitat

    Through a revolutionary private-public partnership, Sea-Tac Airport is welcoming 500,000 new winged residents.

    Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has made a substantial industry innovation. With a new aerial fleet that runs on nectar, it is now one of two or three airports in the country, including Chicago O’Hare, utilizing flower power. The project, called “Flight Path,” marries art, culture and ecology with the creatures upon whose lives we depend to bring all of these together — pollinators.

    Flight Path will turn 1,000 acres of airport property into a home for 500,000 bees. The airport has already added three clusters of 4-6 hives and plans to convert 50 plus acres of scrubland surrounding Sea-Tac’s airstrips into pollinator habitat. The work will inform educational art and science events for the public and culminate in an interactive exhibit on the art and science of pollinators in the airport's main concourse. 

    A collection of "Flight Plan" hives at Sea-Tac. Photo: Robert Mellinger 

    A partnership of the Port of Seattle, local non-profit The Common Acre and The Urban Bee Company, the exhibit will engage some of the region’s best artists to bring together video footage, data from the hive sites and visual art. An astounding 34 million airport goers are expected to view it over the course of a year, beginning this January. 


    Thousands of honey bees hum around us as we approach the first set of hives on a sunny afternoon. A ball of bees hover over a hive entrance. "Lots of new bees were born this week," explains head beekeeper Bob Redmond. Redmond is the founder The Common Acre and The Urban Bee Company, a bicycle-operated honey CSA. "Last time we were looking at a lot of frames of eggs. As they hatch out and get ready to become foragers, they have to take orientation flights. So they are getting their bearings right now."

    Bob Redmond examines a frame of honeybees on Sea-Tac property. Photo: Robert Mellinger

    The first phase of the project began in April, when about 16 hives were distributed between three separate locations on the greenbelt that forms Sea-Tac’s 1,000-acre safety buffer zone surrounding the airstrips. "It is amazing standing here with the bees swarming all over you without getting stung. They are incredibly docile," whispers Steve Osmek, the Port of Seattle’s full-time wildlife biologist.


    For the past two and a half years, Osmek has worked with Redmond to bring Flight Path to Sea-Tac. "When you have public land like this, you wonder, 'Is this really the best use?' But as I learned more about it, it falls really well into our Environmental Strategic Initiative. It's another of the many projects here for the purposes of conservation, managing habitats in way that we can have a diversity of wildlife without having hazards."

    Redmond says he and the co-producer’s at The Common Acre — Kate Fernandez, Rod Hatfield, Amy Baranski and Charlie Spitzack — envision Flight Path as, “a model for civic and cultural engagement nation-wide.” The project's overriding goal: Cultural participation in increasing biodiversity. 

    Redmond became a beekeeper with an ecological bent five years ago after reading about colony collapse disorder, a mass collapse of bee colonies around the world, thought by some to be caused by genetically-modified seeds injected with pesticides.

    Honey is one sweet product of The Urban Bee Company’s work, but Redmond, whose business was the first bicycle-operated honey CSA in the country, has always maintained the greater ambition of “working to grow healthy bees and resilient communities in the Pacific Northwest.”

    As he and his colleagues at The Common Acre see it, creating resilient communities means considering wild habitat, food production, our built environments and our civic consciousness all at once. Honey bees happen to sit at nexus of all of these.

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    Posted Wed, Jul 10, 8:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    Fantastic idea! Thank you, Robert Mellinger, for writing about it and bringing it to the public's attention.

    New Seasons market in East Vancouver WA is providing a safe home to honeybees, as well. I expect we will be seeing more of these protective sanctuaries in the future.

    Wilsonville, OR saw the death of thousands of honeybees last month after flowering trees were chemically sprayed in a big box parking lot.

    We need to find better ways to preserve this threatened species and I cheer all efforts to do so.


    Posted Thu, Jul 11, 7:32 a.m. Inappropriate

    Robert Mellinger, your story is terrific and filled with interesting facts about honey bees in general and SeaTac International Airport's ecological designs for stewardship of habitats for birds compatible with airplanes. I hope you will write more about these important subjects.

    Posted Thu, Jul 11, 11:51 a.m. Inappropriate

    Honey bees, being threatened globally due to pesticides, are worth our support.

    Did you know there is a group working to fill the void of collapsing bee colonies with other bee species? Check out www.crownbees.com. They are supporting the propagation of 'other' bees, like the mason bee and leafcutter bee. Crown Bees does good work!


    Posted Mon, Jul 15, 12:11 p.m. Inappropriate

    This is the Beesknees! A lovely marriage of narrative and fact.

    Thanks for articulating this profound partnership between honey bees, Sea-Tac International Airport and the Urban Bee Company. My curiosity has been whetted, my hope sparked.


    Posted Thu, Jul 25, 9:59 a.m. Inappropriate

    Great work Rob, you really presented the program truly. And we second the note about Crown Bees... they do good stuff. Together we can make the changes we need!


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