by Amber

Latest Buzz on Bees

Loss Surprises

After tallying the annual bee colony losses from Winter 2014-2015, it became clear that US beekeepers fared far better than the previous year with only 1 in 5 hives being wiped out, instead of the 1 in 3 experienced the previous year. But it emerged that far more bees died over the summer – at least 27% of the 41-60% losses apiarists reported. Judging by the graph below compiled by Bee Informed, summer bee losses were non-existent before the 2010-2011 estimates. Make note that this chart doesn’t give actual counts… it could be worse than assumed.

US Managed Bee Loss Estimates (via BeeInformed.org)Curious that they’re still relying on only part of the big picture about something so vastly important, but figures used to measure the state of the honey bee in the United States is done via a limited survey. What about the rest of the beekeepers? The mum camp , who either know nothing about this survey, or simply don’t participate, and then there’s the wild bees that have no spokesperson. Odd that feeding the world has almost emergency importance, and the pollination making most of that possible relies on a scanty measurement. Wouldn’t the true picture increase the odds at correcting the problem?

Wicked winter weather has been blamed for weakening hives in the past, and yet the state by state total loss percentages seem to argue with that bit of reasoning. There was record cold that lingered across the northern Midwest states over the winter of 2014-15. It was so frigid for weeks on end that the over 90% of the Great Lakes froze over. Something that doesn’t happen very often. And Michigan, one of the 5 biggest honey production states sitting in the middle of all that ice only suffered 27% hive lossover the entire year. Despite the thermometer staying below zero, dropping to -20F, and at one point, -40F on the eastern shore.

2014-2015 US Beekeepers State Losses

But weighing the Bee Informed Partnership’s loss map against the Climate Center’s map of record high and low temperatures for last winter would overlay nicely to highlight the states with the higher losses. Except Michigan. An oddity that must be due to land masses totally surrounded by large bodies of water… popsicle stage, or not.

US Record Winter Temperatures: 2014-2015

Aah, but the bee colony losses were actually greater over the summer, than the winter. Why would that be? No one sprays pesticides in the winter in the areas with the largest losses, and there aren’t any plants blooming either. Total annual losses shot up from the previous year, which was unsurprisingly more than the year before. Obviously, the workforce that makes food and farm harvests possible needs some serious protection.

Federal Pollinator Programs

In answer to Obama’s National Pollinator Strategy this spring, the EPA dusted off a proactive measure that looks to be formulated in August of 2014, and published it as a notice in the Federal Register just weeks after the executive order was signed. The end of May marked the beginning of the 30-day commentary period on a measure that would curtail application of 75 pesticides known to be “acutely toxic to bees.” The new ruling would put a lid on spraying 1000 ag products during periods when contracted bees were present for pollination services. So, instead of pulling off the market, the EPA seeks to mitigate harm to the pollinators that serve farmers across the country by removing the possibility of contact death due to these chemicals. A move that makes a great deal of sense – but the USDA doesn’t think so.

Why would the federal Department of Agriculture be opposed to reducing these alarming colony losses? You’d think they would be just as concerned about the fact that there are barely enough managed bees to pull off the task of important crop pollination as it is. Apparently, not being able to spray some 1000 products that do kill bees on contact while they are providing a service to said crop doesn’t suit their interests, the bee protection measure is inflexible. The USDA claims that this measure is doing a huge disservice to the farmers, hampering their ability to protect their crops from insect damage.

Common sense would suggest that if there’s going to be a harvest to protect from damaging insects, one needs the threatened bees to pollinate said crop. The USDA claims that 1-in-3 bites of food Americans eat depends on bees, but the agency views this move to limit bees losses nationwide, both wild and managed, as a detriment to both beekeepers and farmers. Mull that over for a few, and one might wonder if this reaction suggests that the commentary period did not deliver the desired results to interests leaning on pesticide products more so than pollinators and harvest yields. Plan B in someone’s mitigation efforts?

The USDA has their own little program designed to help the bees that focuses on better bee nutrition. Last year they gave $3 million to applicant farms to restore or create foraging areas for bees, upping that figure in 2015 to $8 million in answer to the National Pollinator Strategy. Funding for farmers is granted through the National Resource Conservation Service division of the USDA, with $4 million for bee habitats, and an additional 4 million for Monarch butterflies. While an unhealthy and undiversified diet has been suggested repeatedly as part of the problem honey bees face today, this program is severely limited in reach. The funds are only available in the top 5 honey-producing states: Wisconsin, Montana, Michigan, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. And for the Monarchs? It’s only available in migratory path states.

USDA Says EPA Has No Authority To Protect BeesTalk about tunnel vision. Unfortunately, all bees and pollinators from coast to coast suffer from the same malnutrition issues, and exposure to acutely toxic agricultural insecticides – not just honey bees, and not just on cropland, but in public landscapes, and private gardens too. It’s pretty plain to see which side of their bread the USDA is buttering, and their arguments are full of holes -weighted toward industry, not pollinators. It’s not about the bees, the problem is politics according to the science supporters at the Genetic Literacy Project.

Meanwhile, international resources report that the USDA deems that the EPA doesn’t have the authority to regulate pesticides to protect bees. Interesting, to say the least. And what else do these foreign interests have to say about this development? Wish we knew, but doing so would require a loan since access to so-called World Crop Protection News published by AGROW in the UK costs $3,573 USD per subscription. Notice that this rebuttal is not being published in the United States? Or that it’s done so at a price that only industry would pay to access?

Federal Court Intervenes

If one is to believe the concept that this EPA measure has beekeepers worried, as USDA arguments against it portray, about loss of long-standing business relationships with farmers, then why were they cheering back in September when the US Court of Appeals nixed a pesticide known for acute bee toxicity? Why are the larger commercial beekeepers fighting bee-toxic pesticides in court?

Late last week the EPA formally cancelled approval for products containing the active ingredient sulfoxaflor in answer to that September ruling by U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned the agency’s approval for use of Dow AgroScience’s pesticide on crops including  wheat, soybeans,  citrus, strawberries, canola, and cotton. It can no longer be sold or distributed, except by returning it to the manufacturer, or disposing of it properly. Naturally, Dow thinks they should have just reworded the dance card to their favor, finding fault with this decision, claiming that the EPA could have reduced the harm to bees besides the action they took.

Maybe in future it will be more important to test the effects of pesticides sprayed on huge swathes of land where pollinators are part of the scenario and outcome than to grant license to spray whatever comes out of the ag chemical industry based on partial claims. Only time will tell.

And The Bees?

Bees, on the other hand, know nothing of politics or science. Their business is simply to gather nectar from flowers they can fly to using their own wings, and in doing so, perform this process known as pollination. It doesn’t require housing developments, regulations, funding, party support, government approval, or regulation. They know what their job is without any human input.

No matter how you dissect this situation, it seems that US politics outweigh bee protection. So much for the 1-in-3 bites of food in America is completely due to bees.


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The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.