NANPA Foundation Awards Philip Hyde Conservation Grant to Clay Bolt

Photo of bees in a high-altitude field of flowers.
Photo © Clay Bolt

Clay Bolt of Livingston, Montana has been named the 2019 Philip Hyde Conservation Grant recipient by the NANPA Foundation. Bolt’s award of $2,500 will be used to continue his study of bumble bees, specifically the effect of climate change on bumble bees in the Sky Islands in south-central New Mexico.

“Over the past several years,” Bolt says, “I’ve also been quietly working behind the scenes on another story that has largely escaped the public eye: native bees and climate change. In particular, I’ve begun to think of bumble bees as another avenue (a canary in the coal mine) to discuss climate change. Among bees, bumble bees are specially adapted to thrive in cold environments. With their wooly fur and ability to regulate their own body temperatures (a rare feat for invertebrates) they excel where other insects cannot.

“It is difficult to convey, only in words, the extreme environments where these insects live. Over the past several years I’ve photographed bumble bees flying in sleet storms at nearly 10,000 feet in elevation, high in the Rockies, where they could only fly a few feet before needing to rest due to cold, in places where the spring and summer are compressed only into a month, and in relict, disjunct populations in the Southern Appalachians that were created during last Ice Age. The photos that I’ve made to date offer a unique glimpse into this world of extremes.”

Bees flying in a meadow full of flowers.
Photo © Clay Bolt

While bumble bees are specially adapted to thrive in cold climates, as temperatures rise they are being forced to move even higher in elevation to remain in a comfortable zone. Eventually, they will reach the summit of the Sierra Blanca and run out of suitable habitat. Bolt intends to use the grant to study and document the North American species of bumble bees – the Bombus cockerelli – the species with the fewest known specimens and the smallest known distribution. Because its habitat consists of almost entirely government-owned and Native American lands, if there is any threat to its survival, it’s from the pressures of climate change as it is forced to higher elevations.

Bolt’s study will lead to articles and presentations about the plight of bumble bees. Additionally, he hopes his photographic research will help tie the effects of climate change to future bumble bee decline and raise alarm that, without regulation, species will go extinct.

Bolt’s efforts have been ongoing for the past five years and he hopes to wrap up the project in 2021.

photo of a bee hovering over a flower © Clay Bolt
Photo © Clay Bolt

NANPA has previously recognized Clay Bolt’s work on behalf of bees with a 2019 Impact Award.

Since 1999, the Philip Hyde Conservation Grant has been made possible by individual donations to the NANPA Foundation. It is awarded by the NANPA Foundation to a North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) member who is actively pursuing a conservation project that is consistent with the missions of NANPA and the NANPA Foundation.

This grant was named for Philip J. Hyde who was the primary conservation photographer for the Sierra Club and became known for his color images of Western landscapes that became a weapon against environmental degradation.  Photographers receiving the grant are following in his footsteps of environmental protection through photography.

The NANPA Foundation initiates, partners, operates, and generates funding for projects that advance the awareness and appreciation of nature through photography.  For information about or make a donation to the NANPA Foundation, visit its website at www.nanpafoundation.org

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