Bizarre News About the Bee Czar

Steve Russell, 7/29/14, Indian Country Today

Last year, there was an emergency around a public housing project in the medium-sized suburb of Austin, Texas, where I reside. A swarm of honeybees had ensconced itself in a tool shed and the residents, mostly elders, were scared. One had an allergy to bee stings, and so for him a mishap could be fatal.

The Fire Department was called, Animal Control was called, and eventually the bees were dispatched with insecticide. Lots of people questioned that action at the time. Time had published a cover story back in 2013 warning that nearly one third of US honeybee colonies had died or disappeared since Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) broke out in 2004. Most people who pay attention to the news have by now heard of CCD, even though the causes of it are still hotly departed.

More is at stake here than tradition, but indigenous peoples have plenty of tradition on the line. The Spanish entrada led by Hernando De Soto recorded finding honey in a Cherokee village in 1540. There is an old Cherokee tale about how Bee got a stinger that involves humans trying to steal so much honey that the bees did not have enough left to subsist.

RELATED: The Origins of Golden Honey and its Gastronomic and Medicinal Uses

With the coming of CCD, farmers have been threatened with loss of bees to pollinate a long list of crops that human beings enjoy consuming and the price of renting bees for pollination of crops has skyrocketed. When the bees started to die off in 2004, California almond growers paid about $45-$54 for the one colony per acre they needed. The prices spiked sharply, going well over copy50 before easing back to remain at that approximate level.  Most fruits and vegetables do not require as much time for the bees to do their work, so the prices are accordingly lower, but still higher than farmers were used to paying before CCD.

Pollination of food crops by bees is necessary to humans, but ever since Bee got a stinger, most humans are a little bit afraid our buzzing buddies. A feral swarm is seen as a threat and the common remedy is insecticide.

A nonprofit organization has gotten started in Central Texas with a solution that could travel to other locations. The American Honey Bee Protection Agency & Central Texas Bee Rescue has taken on the protection of feral bees. The nonprofit survives with donations, with taking in small fees for bee removal, and, of course, with sales of honey. If somebody feels threatened by a swarm and cannot afford the fee, they are asked to pay what they can afford, but the bees are “rescued.”

This organization is the brainchild of a beekeeper named Walter Schumacher, who is currently employed by Prairie View A&M University to develop a master bee-handling course. Schumacher calls himself the “Bee Czar.” The Bee Czar has found one colony a home on top of the luxurious W Hotel in downtown Austin, where the bees pollinate the rooftop garden and the hotel uses the honey in their restaurant and in spa treatments.

Local grocery stores carry wild honey harvested from feral bees as well as honey sold under the Honey Co-op brand, produced by cooperating apiaries that split the profits with the bee rescue group. Products made of beeswax will be forthcoming.

Central Texas Bee Rescue has created a model for a self-funding non-profit organization dedicated to seeing that bees scaring humans with their natural swarming behavior will not receive an automatic death sentence. The bees will, instead, help pay for their own preservation. Preserving the bees preserves many fruits and vegetables humans depend on, so Bee of Cherokee lore would be proud that we finally learned to live together.



House Farm Bill Provision would make eating fish more dangerous

As featured on eNews Park, Dec 5, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 5, 2013.  It’s farm bill debate time—again. And as conferee members saddle up to the negotiation table to attempt yet another meeting of the minds before the winter recess, most of the public watching and waiting for word on a resolution are focused on issues like food stamps and milk.

What most are not waiting for and has not been at the forefront of the media and public discussion concerning the pending farm bill negotiations are the small but dangerous provisions of the House bill concerning the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (expanded and overhauled as the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate pesticides used near, over, and in water. It should be.

fishing-207x300Seeking to nullify the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in National Cotton Council v. EPA and the resulting general permit, sections 12323 and 100013 amend CWA to exclude pesticides from the law’s standards and its permitting requirements. Known as the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), CWA requires all point sources, which are discernible and discreet conveyances, to obtain either individual or general permits. Whether a point source must obtain an individual or general permit depends on the size of the point source and type of activity producing the pollutants. Regardless of whether it is a general permit or individual permit, an entity cannot pollute without a permit and in most cases can only permit in the amounts (called effluent limitations) and ways prescribed in the permit.

Separate, but inextricably linked to the NPDES program, are CWA’s water quality standards, under which states are responsible for designating waterbody uses (such as swimmable or fishable) and setting criteria to protect those uses. If a water body fails to meet the established criteria for its use, then it is deemed impaired and the states, or EPA, if the state fails to act, must establish a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), a kind of pollutant diet. The system comes full circle in that impaired waters with TMDLs can be integrated into the NPDES permits.

Neither CWA nor the NPDES program are perfect, but one need look no further than the fish we eat to understand the important role that this critical environmental framework plays in limiting human exposure to pesticides and other toxins.

CWA, Fish, and the Pesticide Connection

In the recently released Environmental Health Perspectives’ article, Meeting the Needs of the People: Fish Consumption Rates in the Pacific Northwest, the complexities of the CWA, its NPDES progam, and its water quality standards criteria are laid out in a disturbing tale of environmental justice and failing bureaucracies.

In short, Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest eat a lot of fish. It’s part of their culture and a way of life preserved in their legal and tribal rights, but they are facing increasing health risks due to the toxic chemicals in those fish. The solution to this problem seems fairly straight-forward: reduce the toxins in the water so that the levels in the fish are safe to eat. It’s a solution envisioned by CWA and its web of regulatory protections, however, as the article explains, “One of the variables used to calculate ambient water quality criteria is fish consumption rate.”

While the takeaway from the article is somewhat defeating and shows the far-reaching weaknesses of existing risk assessment methodologies, the underpinnings of the article —the connection between a water body’s water quality criteria, an entities NPDES permit, and the safety of the fish we put in our mouths— cannot be dismissed as irrelevant tales of woe. Whether the system is functioning perfectly or not, the point is that a system exists that contemplates the risks inherent to consuming toxin-laced fish and has the potential to protect the general consuming public.

From Fish Back to the Farm Bill

What does not have this ability is the Federal, Insecticide, Rodenticide, and Act (FIFRA). It is this federal framework, however, on which supporters of the House provision hang their hats and point to as the already-in-place protective standard capable of preventing water pollution from pesticides. Beyond Pesticides has debunked this argument in more ways than one. Other environmental advocacy groups have also pointed out that the sky has not fallen since EPA’s implementation of the general pesticide permit under CWA.

The Clean Water Act is intended to ensure that every community, from tribe to urban neighborhood, has the right to enjoy fishable and swimmable bodies of water. There is a lot of work still to be done to improve the nation’s waters and protect the health of people dependent on those waters.  Without the Clean Water Act, there are no common sense backstops or enforcement mechanisms for reducing direct applications of pesticides to waterways. It may not be perfect, but it is better than nothing, which would be the effect of the House farm bill. We can’t afford to lose these protections.

Tell your Senators to oppose any efforts to undermine the Clean Water Act.


For more information, read our factsheet, Clearing up the Confusion Surrounding the New NPDES General Permit and visit our Threatened Waters page.

Sources:  Environmental Health Perspectives, Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.