Honeybees (and other pollinators) are facing new, manmade threats. In the past year, commercial beekeepers in California – personal friends of mine – lost more than 50 percent of their overwintered hives because of exposure to pesticides IN THE GROVES AND ORCHARDS THEY WERE CONTRACTED TO POLLINATE! In other words, farmers would contract with commercial beekeepers for pollination services, and then would spray their trees while the bees were in the groves. [Or, in another case, bees would be introduced into fields for pollination where the crops had been treated with neonicotinid pesticides.]
Until now, this kind of threat was mostly academic for Alaskan beekeepers. The only real impact was that the cost and availability of package bees increased because the sources for our packages – commercial beekeepers in California – had fewer bees to sell after the almond bloom.
That’s all changed…
In Alaska, several companies have appeared on the scene that are offering residential treatment for mosquitos. This treatment consists of spraying pesticides within the bounds of a person’s property to kill mosquitos.
I want to be very careful here, so that I can be fair to the various vendors offering these services, and to the people purchasing these services. There is strong anecdotal evidence that these treatments are adversely affecting honeybee colonies around the state… and this is not proof. The apparently-affected colonies are not located on the treated properties themselves, but in areas adjacent to those properties.
I am mentioning this for the benefit of non-beekepers: bees cover a large area gathering resources for their colony. The conventional wisdom suggests that they range within a mile of their colony. But let’s be more conservative, and say that a typical colony ranges a half mile in radius from a colony. If you assume that they are foraging equally in all directions, that is a three square mile area where a single colony is foraging.
I could go on about how what someone spays in their yard a quarter mile from you could affect your bees. Suffice to say that it does, and not in a good way. The question for beekeepers is what to do about it.
Here are some of the issues that could and should affect our next steps:
- We don’t KNOW that this spraying is affecting our bees. We see dying bees on our landing boards, and have struggling colonies, all observed after a neighbor has her yard sprayed. We need to find out if these bees were exposed. I am researching ways to test for pesticide residue on dying bees and inside colonies wax, pollen and honey. If we can find a cost-effective way to test, and we find offending pesticides, we have a strong case. Otherwise, it is just finger-pointing.
- We should could gather some geographic data. Some of the spray companies put signs in their customer’s yards. which makes it easy to locate possible sources of pesticides. If beekeepers collected the locations of these signs – all that would be necessary is the name of the street – the information could be plotted on a map, and beekeepers could then compare the locations of struggling or dead colonies to nearby treated yards.
- The presence of pesticides in our hives and a geographic link to treated locations would make for a compelling argument, and give us tools to address the problem in an ongoing way.
There is likely very little we can do in 2019 to prevent further exposure for the rest of this year. But we can gather information, and make a compelling argument that we can use in a number of ways.
As tempting as it is to make a link between our dying bees and our neighbor’s pesticide treatment, the only thing that is going to matter is hard facts.
We need them now.