As a nontraditional student with a heart for civic service, Adam Beltran found his way to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the place he said provided him with opportunities to use his passions and past experiences to begin the process of drafting a legislative bill promoting the conservation of native bees.
While many students participate in the political process by volunteering civically or voting on legislation in college, not many get to say they’ve worked to propose legislation before graduation.
Beltran, a recent graduate of the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M University, realized this dream when he walked across the stage in December — a goal he said was 17 years in the making.
The journey to Texas A&M, twice
Beltran’s journey to Texas A&M started in 2003 at Texas A&M University at Galveston, but he left school later that year without finishing his degree, to enter the financial sector.
He worked in finance for nine years, before finding himself back at Texas A&M in 2016 to complete his degree in Bryan-College Station.
“They say once an Aggie, always an Aggie,” said Beltran. “There was just always a lingering in me and eagerness to finish what I started.”
Beltran eventually found his way into the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences with the hopes of working in conservation, a calling he says came naturally with influence from his family.
Beltran was raised by a single mother, but his large, extended family played a role in his life. Beltran’s grandfather, who worked for Griffith Park, one of the largest urban parks in the U.S., was perhaps his biggest influence.
“My grandfather would work in different areas of the park and when I was young, he would take me to work with him and let me hang out with the rangers.”
Beltran said these visits grew his appreciation for nature and education surrounding land conservation and preservation. These aspirations would serve him well when he stepped back onto campus as a nontraditional student.
“It was scary, being a 30-something and walking into freshman classes,” he said. “But I was met with nothing but love.”
Beltran said it didn’t take long for him to realize he was just another student.
Creating a buzz in the state legislature
Despite his age and industry experience, Beltran had to take required course work just like every other student in the college—one of those was a technical writing course.
Beltran had freedom to select the topic and at the time bee conservation was trending on social media.
“Bees were getting a lot of traction on social media, and I thought, ‘there’s no better way to educate myself on this topic than to interact with it,’” Beltran said. “As I started going around collecting my information, working with individuals in entomology at Texas A&M and the USDA, people kept asking me if this was a bill I was working on.”
He looked into drafting a bill and dove into research about how such legislation could affect Texans. Beltran also was curious to learn about the potential impact it could have on bee populations, specifically non-apis bees, often called wild or pollen bees, which include any bee other than a honey bee.
Beltran quickly learned that bee sustainability was — and would continue to be — a concern not just for the Texas, but for the planet.
Juliana Rangel, Ph.D., associate professor of apiculture in the Department of Entomology, said bee decline in Texas is, unfortunately, nothing new to researchers.
“Our managed honey bee population across the U.S. and also in Texas experiences a loss rate of between 30% to 40% of colonies yearly,” Rangel said. “This is due to several factors that include diseases, pesticide exposure, poor nutrition and habitat loss.”
While Rangel’s lab primarily focuses on honey bee research, she does acknowledge that the loss of non-apis, or wild bees, is a major concern.
Beltran connected with local state legislators who showed interest in sustainability of natural resources and conservation and began drafting the Busy Bee Tax Bill.
Beltran’s proposed bill focuses on land management and offers farmers, ranchers and landowners a tax break for implementing practices on their property that would create more bee-friendly environments, specifically for non-apis bees.
From his initial research Beltran believes that, if implemented statewide, changes as a result of the Busy Bee Tax Bill, could re-establish bee habitats that were otherwise potentially compromised by urbanization, intensive farming practices and pesticide use.
“I’m not solving anything. I’m just giving the scientists more time to find the solution. That’s where my bee bill comes in,” Beltran said. “I want to put more bees into the population to give our scientists more time to figure out what might be causing the decline.”
“Increasing the availability of bee landscapes would be phenomenal for wild bees, managed bees and all pollinators,” Rangel said. “If the legislation will help increase landscapes for bees, then I suspect that will help increase the survivability of colonies.”
Looking to the future
This experience, working with bee researchers and state legislators to make a difference in his community has not only given Beltran tangible experience, but provided him with a greater appreciation for his journey, which over a decade ago looked much different.
He’s learned plenty over the past few years, but Beltran said there is still much work to be done. He plans to continue work on the Busy Bee Tax Bill, in hopes that he can see the project come to fruition. It is not scheduled for consideration in this legislative session, but Beltran has presented the bill to a local legislator and is awaiting feedback from others, in hopes they can garner more support.
Even if the bill doesn’t become legislation, Beltran said learning more about the civic process has fueled his passion for community service, conservation and land preservation.
Beltran also hopes to find a job with the National Park Service as an interpreter; and he said his time in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has provided him with skills needed to be successful in his future career.
“As an interpretive ranger, you have to create programs for guests that deal with the culture, geology and biology of the park,” Beltran said. “Now that I have all this knowledge about bees at my fingertips, I’ll be able to create programs on them almost anywhere, in any park.”
Regardless of how he uses his newfound knowledge of bees and the legislative process, Beltran said it was all worth it.
“If I can save one bee, this will all have been worth it to me,” said Beltran.