By Kirsten Allen
Unless you’ve had your head in a hole, you’ve probably heard something or other about the alarmingly high rate of honeybee deaths that have occurred over the past several years. With Oregon home to 62,000 managed honeybee colonies and pollinators contributing up to $600 million in annual agriculture values, you may have wondered how the decline of honeybees may affect the economy and agriculture in our burg, as well as worldwide.
Although they are currently garnering much more media attention than in years past, honeybee deaths are nothing new. This year, beekeepers have been reporting a 21.1% loss of colonies post winter, which is down from the average of 22% reported over the past six years. While 22% may not seem like much, compared to the 10 to 15% loss that’s considered acceptable, the numbers have honeybee scientists raising a wary eyebrow.
There’s no way to really estimate the economic effects of the bee die-off accurately, but most people estimate the damage as somewhere between catastrophic and apocalyptic. A White House fact sheet places the honeybee’s economic footprint at $15 billion per year, and that’s the direct effect, not even taking into account the chain reaction of other food price effects the loss of the pollinators causes.
There are several known factors responsible for the current bee dilemma. Monocropping, which leads to poor nutrition as a result of restricted diet, combined with parasitic Varroa mites that transmit viral diseases, topped by chronic low-level exposure to pesticides, namely Neonicotinoids, which may harm a bee’s ability to navigate while foraging—this all together creates a perfect storm that has honeybee populations on an alarmingly sharp decline.
An Oregon Department of Agriculture investigation found that the pesticide neonicotinoid, made of the compounds imidacloprid and dinoteturan, was a main factor in the mass die-off of bumblebees. Neonictinoids are primarily used on linden trees, basswood, and trees of the genus Tilia. Bees are exposed to the pesticide during the flowering stages of the trees, and thus receive the most exposure while pollinating the flowers. Although there have been studies showing effects of these pesticides lasting up to six years after only one application, and in the soil for up to two years, the hazard to pollinators is only present when they are in the pollen and the nectar of the plants.
Oregon State University is home to the Honeybee Lab, where apiculturist Ramesh Sagili has been diligently studying honeybees for the past five years. He is also a member of a committee for the Oregon Task Force on Pollinator Health. As a scientist, Sagili’s role in the task force is to provide information regarding honeybees that has been obtained by research. Sagili emphasizes that before we begin to point the finger at any one culprit, it is important to continue following up the findings with more studies. The real challenge, he states, is the economic struggle beekeepers are dealing with as they endure losses to their colonies year after year. As long as there are beekeepers, we don’t need to fret about seeing shrinking grocery store aisles; however, if the losses continue on the trend they have been following for the past several years, beekeepers will get closer and closer to reaching their breaking point. If this were to happen, we could then certainly expect to see even larger and irreparable losses to pollinators. Consumers could expect to be hit with price increases of produce and nuts as the cost of maintaining these crops trickles down.
Ocean Blue Project, the Corvallis-based company involved in mycoremediation, is involved with Saving America’s Pollinators Act HR 2692, a federal bill aimed at suspending use of the worst pesticides and also directing the EPA to perform deeper evaluation of the pesticides’ impacts on pollinators. They have also partnered with Beyond Pesticides, a non-profit company that has been advocating for a reduction in pesticide use, as well as an increase in research, for the past several years. First up on the OBP anti-pesticide agenda is the creation of a map of pesticide-free neighborhoods in town. This “know your neighbors”-themed map is also to include members of the community who do use them, with the idea of empowering and involving citizens while allowing community members to hold each other accountable. Neighborhood committees and watches for pesticides, along with educational workshops discussing the effects and alternatives, are also part of a community-wide strategy to reduce and bring awareness to pesticide use. Within a year, OBP is optimistic they can have 20,000 people who garden organic, and are planning to begin with city parks and school campuses.
Are You Using These Pesticides at Home?
At this point, you may be wondering if you and your garden or backyard are contributing to the bee genocide. Perhaps you aren’t wondering, but you may want to consider how your roses are going to survive if the very product being used on them is harming a key player in their survival…
To name a few, Bayer Advanced All-in-One Rose & Flower Care, Green Light Grub Control with Arena, and Ortho Flower, Fruit, and Vegetable Insect Killer all contain different compounds of the neonicotinoid pesticide. For a more complete list, please check out www.xerces.org/neonicotinoids-and-bees.
For a closer look on how bees are affected, visit www.beyondtoxics.org/work/safe-public-places/healthy-bees-healthy-gardens.