Bees in the news: Part II

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By Danette Vernon

Bees are said to be bio-indicators of our own health, or our possible contamination.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), while specific, is being used in the news as a broader term for what is happening to our bees.

Marla Spivak, University of Minnesota professor of entomology, encourages us to think about the recent plight of the bees this way: If you had the flu, and found the fridge to be empty, consider how difficult it would be to get dressed, let alone actually get to the grocery store and back. It’s the same story for bees — almost. Their health is being compromised by particularly deadly viruses and parasites and the “fridge is empty” thanks to monocultures, herbicides, and the loss of traditional farming. But here’s where the story diverges from a case of the flu. The food they find is often contaminated with pesticides that are neurotoxins, chemicals that may be responsible for the bee becoming disorientated or dying outright. Europe has decided on a limited two year ban on these chemicals.

Marla Spivak quoted a Penn State University study in a recent speech. The study found that all pollen tested indicated contamination with at least six types of toxins, insecticides, herbicides, or even inert or unlabeled chemicals, some of which are considered more deadly than the known chemical components. Yet Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Acting State Apiarist (beekeeper) for Pennsylvania Department of Agricultural, points out that “some hives with high levels of pesticide are thriving.”

There is no one clear answer to the problem.

No matter the cause, we can’t afford to be self-indulgent and self-focused anymore when it comes to our food supply. We know we need bees, but what can any of us do?

• Dennis vanEngelsdorp advises us all to, “Make meadows not lawns.” He notes that 11% of all pesticide use goes towards keeping our lawns up, and 5% of all greenhouse gases are produced by mowing lawns.

• Campaign to have flowers planted in public places and along roadways.

• Buy local honey, and therefore support the beekeepers who are paying the immediate cost for the die-offs (According to the Huffington Post, CCD has wiped out some 10 million hives worth $2 billion dollars over the past six years.)

• Marla Spivak asks us to think before we buy or use a pesticide: “Do I really need this? What’s in this stuff? Does it kill bees?”

• Create a landscape the supports bees on your property. Research what plants bees in your area prefer, or just watch a plant for a few seconds at your local nursery before buying it. Are their bees on it? If so, buy it. After, of course, you check if the plant has been pre-treated with any potentially bee-killing pesticide.

• Get kids involved with bees online through www.classroomhives.org.

• Involve yourself in the Great Sunflower Project. Simply plant a sunflower (Lemon Queen variety) and once it blooms, watch your sunflower for 30 minutes twice a month and count the number of bees that visit it. Next step? Record the information for use in a nationwide bee population survey. This is a great classroom or community project.

• Encourage your congress person to include land conservation (and incentives) in the farm bill again, so that marginal land surrounding corn fields, etc., isn’t emptied of the wildflowers and weeds that bees need.

Pick one please and get involved. No matter your age, what will you tell your grandchildren that you did as various crisis arose in your lifetime — nothing or something?