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.



Federal Wildlife Agency Phases Out Bee-Harming Pesticides In Northwest Refuges

By 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to phase out the use of bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides on wildlife refuges in the Pacific Northwest. | credit: Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
By 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to phase out the use of bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides on wildlife refuges in the Pacific Northwest. | credit: Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


By: Cassandra Profita, OPB


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to eliminate the use of bee-harming pesticides on wildlife refuges in the Pacific region by 2016.

A new rule phases our the use of neonicotinoid pesticides – a class of chemical that has been linked to several bee die-offs in Oregon in the past two years, including one that killed 50,000 bumblebees in a Wilsonville parking lot.

Studies show neonicotiniods can be absorbed into plant tissue and harm bees and other pollinating insects. The European Union has banned the use of the chemicals to protect pollinators until further studies can be completed. New findings published in the journal Nature suggests a link between neonicotinoid pesticide use and a decline in bird numbers.

The pesticides are used on some wildlife refuges in sprays that control invasive insect species, and they also coat some of the seeds farmers use to grow food for wildlife on refuges in the region, according to Kim Trust, deputy chief of refuges for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Pacific Region. The agency and its cooperating farmers will have until January 2016 to look for alternatives to neonicotinoids.

“We want to make sure in our refuges we’re using the best available tools to protect all wildlife on our refuge lands,” said Trust. “So we will will be phasing out coated seeds. We’ll be phasing out sprays except in some rare circumstances where they need to be used.”

A memo to refuge project leaders asks managers “to exhaust all alternatives before allowing the use of neonicotinoids on National Wildlife Refuge System Lands in 2015.”

The rule only applies in the Pacific region, which includes Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Hawaii and other Pacific islands. Officials say it was made in response to scientific studies that indicate neonicotinoid pesticides may harm pollinating insects.

The Center for Food Safety has sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force a nationwide ban on the use of neonicotinoids on refuges. The group has also sued the Environmental Protection Agency to get the agency to take two neonicotinoid chemicals off the market.

Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney for the Center, said the new U.S. Fish and Wildlife rule for the Pacific region is “a responsible and necessary first step.”

“But the agency must permanently institute this policy on all refuge lands across the country,” she said in a news release. “As our legal challenges have repeatedly stated, the costs of these chemicals severely outweigh the benefits; we must eliminate their use immediately.”

Everything we know about neonic pesticides is awful

By John Upton, Grist



Neonicotinoid pesticides are great at killing insect pests, which helps to explain the dramatic rise in their use during the past 20 years. They’re popular because they are systemic pesticides — they don’t just get sprayed onto plant surfaces. They can be applied to seeds, roots, and soil, becoming incorporated into a growing plant, turning it into poison for any bugs that might munch upon it.

But using neonics to control pests is like using a hand grenade to thwart a bank robbery.

Which is why the European Union has banned the use of many of them – and why environmentalists are suing the U.S. EPA to do the same.

The pesticides don’t just affect pest species. Most prominently, they affect bees and butterflies, which are poisoned when they gather pollen and nectar. But neonics’ negative impacts go far beyond pollinators. They kill all manner of animals and affect all kinds of ecosystems. They’re giving rise to Silent Spring 2.0.

“It’s just a matter of time before somebody can point to major species declines that can be linked to these compounds,” said Pierre Mineau, a Canadian pesticide ecotoxicologist. “Bees have been the focus for the last three or four years, but it’s a lot broader than that.”

Mineua contributed to an epic assessment of the ecological impacts of neonics, known as the Worldwide Integrated Assessment, in which 29 scientists jointly examined more than 800 peer-reviewed papers spanning five years. Their findings are being published in installments in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research, beginning last week with a paper coauthored by Mineua that details impacts on vertebrate animals, including fish and lizards. Here’s a summary of highlights:



Neonics can remain in the soil for months — sometimes for years. As they break down, they form some compounds that are even more toxic than the original pesticide. Because of these long-lasting ecological impacts, traditional measures of pesticide toxicity fall short of describing the widespread damages caused by neonics. In some cases, neonics can be 10,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT.

Ecosystem impacts

Noenics don’t stay where they are sprayed or applied. They can be found in soils, sedimentation, waterways, groundwater, and plants far away from farms and manicured gardens. They can interfere with a wide range of ecosystem functions, including nutrient cycling, food production, biological pest control, and pollination services. Of course, the animals that are worst affected are those that visit farmlands — and water-dwelling species that live downstream from farms.

Land-dwelling bugs

Everything from ants to earthworms can be affected, absorbing the poisons into their tiny bodies from dust in the air, through tainted water, and directly from plants.


Pollinators, including bees, butterflies, birds, and bats, are “highly vulnerable” to the pesticides. Not only do they drink poisoned nectar and eat poisoned pollen, but they can also be exposed to the pesticides through water and the air. This jeopardizes the ability of plants to reproduce, and the impacts can reverberate through ecosystems.

Aquatic invertebrates

Crabs, snails, and water fleas are among the water-dwelling species that can be exposed to the pesticides through the water in which they live. High concentrations of the pesticides found in waterways have reduced population sizes and diversity. The insecticides can affect the animals’ feeding behavior, growth rates, and movement.

Birds and other animals

Birds eat crop seeds treated with pesticides. Reptile numbers have dropped because the pesticides kill off their insect prey. And fish downstream from farms literally swim in the poison.

Knowledge gaps

Still, despite their prevalence, there’s a scary amount that we don’t know about these insecticides. The toxicity of neonics to most species has never been measured. For example, just four of the 25,000 known species of bees have been subjected to toxicity tests involving the pesticides.

And that’s not all

That’s just the ecosystem impacts of the poisons — the review doesn’t even deal with the effects of these insecticides on farmers or on those who eat farmed goods.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

Scientists Release Landmark Worldwide Assessment Detailing Effects Of Bee-Killing Pesticides

Neonicotinoids threaten “heart of a functioning ecosystem,” says report co-author



By Brandon Baker, Mint Press News

The Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA), issued by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, documents significant damage to bees and the environment stemming from the wide-spread use of neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics). The report stresses that even at very low levels, neonics and the products resulting from their breakdown in the environment are persistent and harmful, and suggests that the current regulatory system has failed to grasp the full range of impacts from these pesticides. The authors analyzed more than 800 peer-reviewed publications before coming to their consensus.

The report will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research and will be released at events in Brussels, Manila, Montreal and Tokyo over the next two days.

“This report should be a final wake up call for American regulators who have been slow to respond to the science,” said Emily Marquez, PhD, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America. “The weight of the evidence showing harm to bees and other pollinators should move EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] to restrict neonicotinoids sooner than later. And the same regulatory loopholes that allowed these pesticides to be brought to the market in the first place—and remain on the shelf—need to be closed.”

“The science clearly shows that, not only are these systemic pesticides lethal to pollinators, but even low doses can disrupt critical brain functions and reduce their immunity to common pathogens,” said Nichelle Harriott, staff scientist at Beyond Pesticides.

Neonics, as described by the Center for Food Safety, are a newer class of systemic insecticides that are absorbed by plants and transported throughout the plant’s vascular tissue, making the plant potentially toxic to insects. Imidacloprid (Bayer)—followed by clothianidin (Bayer), thiamethoxam (Syngenta) and dinotefuran—first came into heavy use in the mid-2000s. At about the same time, beekeepers started observing widespread cases of population losses—episodes that lead to the coining of the term “colony collapse disorder.”

Over the past few years numerous studies and reports, as well as advocacy groups and beekeepers, have called on the EPA to suspend the use of neonicotinoids, even filing lawsuits and circulating legal petitions against the agency. The EPA has continually stalled and indicated that a review of the pesticides will not be completed until 2018. Meanwhile, the European Commission instituted a continent-wide, two-year ban on neonicotinoids that began Dec. 1, 2013.

“To save our invaluable pollinators, EPA, USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and all Federal agencies must read this report and immediately implement regulatory remedies against the ongoing neonicotinoid disaster,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, PhD, senior scientist for Center for Food Safety. “We know from recent studies that neonicotinoid seed treatments are generally not improving yields or even keeping common pests at bay. They aren’t serving farmers and they certainly aren’t serving pollinators. It is time to address this common route of exposure.”

The report looks beyond the harmful affects on bees, noting the far-reaching impacts of neonics on entire ecosystems, including contamination of soil and water, as well similar effects being displayed in butterflies and other pollinators.

Since 2006, beekeepers in the U.S. have been losing, on average, more than 30 percent of their bees each year, with commercial productions losing upwards of 50 percent. Last month, the USDA reported that honeybees in the U.S. are dying at a rate too high to ensure their long-term survival.

“The report lends credence to what beekeepers have been saying for several years,” said Jeff Anderson, beekeeper and owner of California-Minnesota Honey Farms. “Our country depends on bees for crop pollination and honey production. It’s high time regulators realize that applying toxins to plants makes them toxic to bees.”

Beekeepers are breeding a race of superbees at the Seattle airport

Rod Hatfield
Rod Hatfield


By Amber Cortes, Grist

It’s a sunny June day and I’m standing in a lovely meadow. Birds are singing, flowers are in bloom, and the temptation to lay out a blanket and have a picnic is strong. In fact, if not for the occasional roar of a 747 overhead, you would never guess that you were right next to one of the busiest airports in the country.

Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport boasts up to 855 takeoffs and landings a day. But just a few hundred feet away, thousands of teeny-tiny takeoffs and landings are also happening on a strip the size of a ruler.

Meet the superbees of Sea-Tac.

It’s pretty clear by now that bees are in peril: Threatened by colony collapse disorder, their long-term survival is in jeopardy. So the Port of Seattle has joined forces with local nonprofit Common Acre to establish Flight Path, a project that will turn the unused green spaces on the south end of Sea-Tac into native pollinator habitat — and in the process, produce a breed of bees that will be better suited for survival in the coming years.

Beekeeper Bob Redmond, the founder and executive director of Common Acre, sees a lot of parallels between bees and airports. Take the bee’s waggle dance: “That’s their navigation system,” Redmond says. Forager bees use the waggle dance to direct other bees in the hive toward food sources. “It’s like the air traffic controller giving instructions. It’s their way of saying, ‘Use runway 16!’”

Bees also have complex systems of transportation, collection, delivery, and warehousing. “All of these things humans have figured out — but fairly late in the game, evolutionarily speaking — the bees have been solving for eons,” he says. “Like, it’s all here, in these boxes.”

The boxes he is pointing to are just a few of the 25 hives on green space surrounding the airport that can house up to 1.25 million European honeybees at the height of the season.

“They’re pretty mellow today,” Redmond says. “Right now they’re totally disinterested in everybody. But it’s good that you have your hair up, because they might get stuck in there.”

“Oh. Sure. Ok,” I reply, trying to play it cool while thinking back to painful stings of summer camps past, and really beginning to regret washing my hair the night before with lavender-scented shampoo.

Bob Redmond tends to the beehives.
Amber Cortes
Bob Redmond tends to the beehives.

After stints working in the nonprofit and arts world, Redmond became intrigued by the plight of the bees after reading about colony collapse in the newspaper. “It sounded really serious,” he says. “It was a food system issue. And at the same time, bees are fascinating, and the more I read about them the more I got drawn in.”

After starting with a couple of hives in his yard, Redmond founded the Urban Bee Company, which produces local and sustainable honey and serves as an information hub for other urban beekeepers. Redmond became inspired by the bee apiary project at Chicago’s O’Hare airport in 2011. Noticing all the green space while flying over Sea-Tac one day, Redmond thought he could try a similar project here. Redmond called the Port of Seattle with his idea and the Flight Path project was quickly born.

Surrounding Sea-Tac is about 116 acres of wildlife and wetlands. Port of Seattle’s wildlife biologist Steve Osmek sees the honeybees as the hook that gets people interested in the wider conservation effort at the airport that addresses the declining numbers of all sorts of local pollinators — not just bees, but also butterflies and hummingbirds.

“The airport is 3,000 acres, and granted 13 million square feet of that is concrete,” he jokes. “But what we’re working on is to really transform the south end of this airport right now into something that’s valuable for pollinators.”

The bees of Sea-Tac airport.
Amber Cortes
The bees of Sea-Tac airport.

But what really sets the Sea-Tac pollinator initiative apart from other airport apiaries is that this is a full-fledged conservation effort: they’re actually trying to selectively breed more genetically vigorous bees that are adapted to the regional Pacific Northwest area.

“It’s easy to set up a few colonies, and just say, ok, now we have some honeybees,” Osmek says. “We’re contracting Bob to not only establish the honeybee colonies, but also to think more into the future. You know, how can we provide a good resource of queens that are specifically acclimatized to the Pacific Northwest, to increase their robustness and genetic diversity.”

And according to Bob Redmond, an airport’s green space is the perfect place to control the breeding area for building a better bee. So how will it work? Pump some Barry White into the hives and get this party started?

“I prefer Al Green myself,” Redmond laughs. Actually, it’s balancing act of introducing the bees to other, heartier species. “We like wild bees. And feral bees, because those are survival colonies who are already attuned,” Redmond explains.

On of the pieces at the Sea-Tac art exhibit in Terminal B.
“To Be or Not To Bee” by L Kelly Lyles
One of the pieces at the Sea-Tac exhibit in Terminal B.

In addition to its conservation efforts, the Flight Path project aims to educate and inspire travelers in the airport via an art exhibit (in Terminal B, of course!). There’s also the Sing for the Bees benefit concert and recent bee hackathon, where techies developed a prototype for an app that travelers can use to compare their flight miles with the bees’.

Redmond hopes it will be an opportunity for travelers to connect with the world of bees and learn from them. “The thing that we can learn from the bees is the collective spirit of cooperation — and consumption,” he says. “Like each of us ‘in the hive’ has to realize that there’s an overall community ethic at work, and we can only eat what the hive can support. So that’s something that is not as easy to swallow, but vital to understand for our own future.”

You may now feel free to cue up Flight of the Bumblebee. Or maybe queue up this video and start a bee breeding revolution of your own:

Growers Tell Congress Pesticide Ban Won’t Solve Bee Problems

 Oregon growers testified in Congress that the government should take a scientific approach to banning pesticides. | credit: University of California-Davis
Oregon growers testified in Congress that the government should take a scientific approach to banning pesticides. | credit: University of California-Davis


By Eric Mortenson, Capital Pres

Instead of banning the neonicotinoid class of pesticides, Congress should follow Oregon’s example and use a collaborative and science-based approach to improving honeybee health, the executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries said.

OAN director Jeff Stone told a congressional subcommittee that the state’s nursery industry depends on pollinators, but also relies on chemical agents to kill pests and protect plant health.

“This chemical class, when used properly, is vital to the success of our industry,” Stone told members of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture.

The subcommittee, which includes Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader and Washington Rep. Suzan K. DelBene, invited testimony on pollinator health — a hot topic as honey bees have been decimated by colony collapse disorder.

Some researchers believe hive loss could be caused by a combination of parasites, nutrition problems or the stress of being moved long distances. Many beekeepers truck hives across farming regions each spring, pollinating crops in rotation as the season advances.

Others conclude heavy pesticide use — especially neonicotinoids — disrupts bee behavior, kills them outright or weakens them to the point they are susceptible to illness or infection. Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenaur last year introduced legislation that would ban neonicotinoids, a synthetic pesticide.

Stone said there are alternatives, and described how Oregon handled spraying incidents in which thousands of bees were killed in 2013. The Oregon Department of Agriculture temporarily restricted the use of dinotefuran and imidacloprid, both neonicotinoids. An education campaign told people not to use the sprays on flowering linden and basswood trees.

Other speakers testifying included Dan Cummings, an almond and walnut grower in Hamilton, Calif., and chair of the Almond Board of California Bee Task Force.

Cummings said about 1.6 million honeybee colonies — approximately two thirds of all the commercially kept honeybees in the United States — are needed to pollinate California’s almond orchards. The orchards are completely dependent on honeybees for pollination, he said.

The Almond Board of California funds honeybee research, spending $2.3 million in health projects since 1995, Cummings said. “Without honeybees, there would be no crop,” he said.

Jeff Pettis, lead researcher at the USDA’s bee lab in Maryland, said a parasite called the varroa mite is wreaking havoc on honey bees. It’s full name is “Varroa destructor,” he said, “and it is perhaps the most aptly named parasite to enter this country. Varroa destructor is a modern honey bee plague.”

When Varroa destructor was first detected in the U.S. in 1987, beekeepers managed more than 3 million colonies for crop pollination and their winter hive losses ranged from 10 to 15 percent annually, Pettis told the committee. Beekeepers now have about 2.5 million colonies and winter hive losses average more than 30 percent per year.

“The economic sustainability of beekeeping is at the tipping point,” Pettis said.

Marla Spivak: Why bees are disappearing




FILMED JUN 2013 • POSTED SEP 2013 • TEDGlobal 2013

Bees pollinate a third of our food supply — they don’t just make honey! — but colonies have been disappearing at alarming rates in many parts of the world due to the accumulated effects of parasitic mites, viral and bacterial diseases, and exposure to pesticides and herbicides. Marla Spivak, University of Minnesota professor of entomology and 2010 MacArthur Fellow, tries as much as possible to think like bees in her work to protect them. They’re “highly social and complex” creatures, she says, which fuels her interest and her research.

Spivak has developed a strain of bees, the Minnesota Hygienic line, that can detect when pupae are infected and kick them out of the nest, saving the rest of the hive. Now, Spivak is studying how bees collect propolis, or tree resins, in their hives to keep out dirt and microbes. She is also analyzing how flowers’ decline due to herbicides, pesticides and crop monoculture affect bees’ numbers and diversity. Spivak has been stung by thousands of bees in the course of her work.


View PDF’s that have lists of local native plants that are friendly for honey bees



From PDFClick image to view PDF
Click image to view PDF

After mass bumblebee die-off, activists call for new pesticide rules

jetsandzeppelinsIf only bees could read.
If only bees could read.

By John Upton, Grist,

Even as Oregonians are mourning and memorializing the tens of thousands of bees killed in a recent pesticide spraying, they’re also trying to prevent other bees from meeting a similarly tragic end. That means keeping the pollinators away from the poisoned trees that caused the deaths. And for some activists, it also means pushing for new rules and policies to curb use of neonicotinoid insecticides.

The tragedy started a week and a half ago when a landscaping company sprayed Safari neonic insecticide over 55 blooming trees around a Target parking lot in Wilsonville, Ore. Soon thereafter bees started dropping dead. The number of bees killed in the incident has risen to more than 50,000, making it the biggest known bumblebee die-off in American history. The insecticide was reportedly sprayed in an attempt to kill aphids.

bumblebee net
Mace Vaughan / Xerces Society
Insect-proof netting being draped over insecticide-drenched trees in Wilsonville, Ore.

To stop the slaughter, nets have been draped over the insecticide-drenched linden trees to prevent pollinators from reaching their flowers. The time and equipment needed for the draping were donated by five cities, three landscaping companies, and volunteers, according to the Xerces Society, a nonprofit that works to conserve insects and has been helping to coordinate the effort.

Xerces Executive Director Scott Black told Grist that the Wilsonville die-off, and a similar but less dramatic Safari-induced die-off in a linden tree in Hillsboro, Ore., represent the “tip” of a pollinator-killing iceberg.

“These insecticides are used throughout the country in both urban and agricultural environments,” Black said. “If these events had not happened over areas of concrete, I am not sure anyone would have ever noticed. The insects would just fall into the grass to be eaten by birds as well as ants and other insects.”

Black said his group will send letters to local and state agriculture departments across the country, urging them to end the use of neonicotinoid insecticides on trees, lawns, and for other cosmetic purposes on lands that they manage. He said such a policy is in place is Ontario.

(Separately, beekeepers and activists are suing the federal government in an effort to ban the use of neonicotinoids in America. The pesticides are deadly to pollinators and their use is being banned in Europe.)

Xerces also wants warning labels mandated in aisles of stores where insecticides are sold to help consumers understand their hazards.

“In urban areas, most of the pesticides used are purely cosmetic. It’s to have a perfect lawn. It’s to have a perfect rose. It’s to have a linden tree that doesn’t have aphids that drop honey dew,” Black said. “Losing valuable pollinators, such as bees, far outweighs the benefits of having well-manicured trees and lawns.”

A bumble bee protected from insecticide-covered tree
Mace Vaughan / Xerces Society
A bumblebee kept away from poisoned flowers by netting.
John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

The Plight of the Honeybee—and How You Can Help

Darla Antoine, Indian Country Today Media Network

Honeybees are holy. They are matriarchal powerhouses, spiritual catalysts . . . and they’re dropping like flies.

It’s a phenomenon that’s become known as Colony Collapse Disorder. While its causes are contested and debated, it’s largely agreed that the bees are dying from some sort of a combination of exposure to pesticides (in the field and in their hive), and of exposure to pathogens and viruses. All of which may potentially be caused, and prevented, by commercial beekeeping practices. This is a big deal because it’s estimated that we rely on bees for up to 40 percent of our food—bees are the pollinators that make our food happen!

It’s been attributed to Einstein, but someone once said that if the honey bee goes extinct, we humans will follow four years later.

FOUR years later.

So what can you do? Well you can buy your honey locally for starters. Big operation beekeepers often harvest all of the honey in their hives and give the bees high fructose corn syrup to live off of during the winter. They also buy pre-fabricated honeycombs to speed the honey-making process up and to make the slats of honey produce more uniformly. The honeycomb is where the Queen bee lays her eggs. There are generally two sizes of honeycomb in a hive: large and small. These different sizes create different kinds of bees, which lends biodiversity to the hive, creating a healthier, stronger, hive. For example: the smaller honeycombs create bees that are disease tolerant, while the larger honeycombs create bees that are tolerant to the cold. That means that if there is a sudden cold snap, some of the disease-resistant bees might die, but there would be plenty of cold-resistant bees left to keep the hive going and to help regenerate it. And vice versa.

The problem in most commercial operations is that they slip in pre-fabricated honeycombs to save time and to get the bees producing honey faster. These combs are also reusable and disposable—easier and cleaner to work with. However, these combs are also only come in one size: large. That means large commercial productions for honey have a lot of cold-resistant bees and not many disease-resistant ones, which may be one reason so many honeybees have died in the last few years. This then leads commercial beekeepers to use antibiotics and pesticides in their hives— which is bad for the bees and bad for us when we ingest their honey or use the beeswax.

Another bonus to buying your honey locally: the honey will be infused with local pollens (from the pollen-collecting process) and over time this exposure to local pollens will help reduce or eliminate your seasonal allergies.

What else can you do to help the bees out? Become a beekeeper! It’s really pretty simple and inexpensive to get into beekeeping. I recommend finding a local beekeeper and asking her for some tips on getting started. You can also check out area beekeeping organizations for classes on beekeeping and other sources for getting everything you need to get started. You can also check out websites like Also be sure to check with your city or county ordinances—sometimes you can get a property tax break for having a hive on your land.

If you’re not a beekeeper, but still want to help the little beauties out, plant a diverse selection of flowers in your garden to help attract bees and consider not using chemical applications on your plants and soil. The bees will thank you for it.

Darla Antoine on a recent visit to Washington State.
Darla Antoine on a recent visit to Washington State.


Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a bee hive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.



County beekeepers adjust to causes of colony collapse

County’s beekeepers continue to see threat to agriculture

Nick Adams / The HeraldQuentin Williams checks over his bees in the back yard of his Snohomish home on May 5. Williams, the manager of Beez Neez, has six hives with two breeds of bees. A federal report suggests that parasites, malnutrition and pesticide exposure are behind the decline in bee colonies nationwide.
Nick Adams / The Herald
Quentin Williams checks over his bees in the back yard of his Snohomish home on May 5. Williams, the manager of Beez Neez, has six hives with two breeds of bees. A federal report suggests that parasites, malnutrition and pesticide exposure are behind the decline in bee colonies nationwide.

By Bill Sheets, The Herald

Last fall, hobbyist beekeeper Jeff Thompson had nine hives of honeybees. “I only had two hives make it through the winter,” said Thompson, who keeps bees at his home in Edmonds and also in Mill Creek.

Dave Pehling, who keeps hives at his home near Granite Falls, lost all his honeybees over the winter.

Neither was surprised to hear about a report regarding one of the more mysterious recent environmental problems: the sharp decline of honeybees.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency report issued a week ago cites a complex mix of problems contributing to honeybee colony declines, which have accelerated in the past six to seven years.

Factors include parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition, pesticide exposure and farming practices, according to the report.

“It’s just a combination of stresses,” said Pehling, an assistant with the Washington State University cooperative extension in Snohomish County. He has a zoology degree and has been keeping bees since the 1970s, he said.

The recent report warns that even with intensive research to understand the cause of honeybee colony declines in the United States, losses continue to be high and could pose a serious threat to meeting the pollination demands for some commercial crops. Growers in California have had trouble pollinating almond trees in the winter, for example, and blueberry farmers in Maine face similar pressures.

Many bee experts have focused on pesticides recently, Pehling said. While he agrees that’s a factor, he doesn’t think it’s the biggest one.

The varroa mite, native to Southeast Asia, was introduced to North America in the 1980s.

In about 1987, it reached Snohomish County, Pehling said.

“That’s when I started losing bees,” he said.

The mite lays eggs on young honeybees and the larvae feed off the living bees’ blood, weakening them and making them more susceptible to illness from other factors, Pehling said.

In Asia, the mites feed off the bees as well but those bees are smaller, providing less space and food for the mites and keeping the relationship in balance, he said.

Pesticides can temporarily control the mites but the chemicals collect in the wax in the hives and erode the bees’ health.

“It’s not an acute effect, but it can affect the immune system and shorten life of an adult bee,” Pehling said.

Now, beekeepers are experimenting with “softer” chemicals such as Thymol and essential oils, he said.

“I think there’s a multitude of issues why the bees are declining,” said Thompson, vice president of the Northwest District Beekeepers Association, based in Snohomish.

He said that whether pesticides are the major cause of bees’ problems or not, they worry many beekeepers.

Neonicotinoids are synthesized, concentrated forms of nicotine made into pesticides.

“These are very long-acting products” that get absorbed into plants and in turn by bees, Thompson said.

“That’s the beekeepers’ big concern right now, they don’t like it,” he said.

Honeybees are not native to North America but have been here since the 17th century, Pehling said. They have managed to mostly live in balance with other species, he said.

Dozens of bees are native to Washington state, including some variety of bumblebees, he said. Pehling keeps bumblebee hives as well as honeybees, he said.

One species, the western bumblebee, has experienced some decline in recent years but “most of (the native species) are doing OK,” he said.

Because of honeybees’ role as prolific pollinators, their decline could spell serious trouble for American agriculture, experts say.

The USDA estimates that a third of all food and beverages are made possible by pollination, mainly by honeybees. Pollination contributes to an estimated $20 billion to $30 billion in U.S. agricultural production each year.

A consortium will study the problem this year with the hopes of putting in place measures to help reduce bee deaths next growing season, said Laurie Davies Adams, executive director of the San Francisco-based Pollinator Partnership, which is overseeing the project.

Farmers, beekeepers, pesticide manufacturers, corn growers, government researchers and academics will study this summer ways to address the corn dust problem by changing the lubricant used in the machinery, as well as trying to improve foraging conditions for bees at the same time the pesticides are applied.

“It’s not in anybody’s interest to kill bees,” she said. “It just isn’t.”

Erika Bolstad of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this story.