Stung By Dead Bees

California Lawyer    By Glen Martin  July 2015

Commercial pollinators demand that regulators protect honeybees from potent insecticides.

Photo: Vern EvansFor about two weeks in the early spring, the San Joaquin Valley is a vast confection of pink and white, and the air is heavy with a magnolia-like scent. To some, the odor may seem overpowering, almost cloying. But to Jeff Anderson, a beekeeper in the small Stanislaus County town of Oakdale, it is the smell of money.

Oakdale is near the center of California's almond belt, and the pastel froth across the valley floor consists of hundreds of millions - maybe billions - of almond tree blooms. Each little blossom can produce a highly valuable nut - the 2012 crop was worth $4.8 billion. But the blossoms can't pollinate themselves.

That's where Anderson's bees come in. He sells honey, but he gets most of his income by providing pollination services to Central Valley growers. Some 35 percent of the world's food crops - including almonds, plums, kidney beans, okra, coffee, and watermelons - must be pollinated by insects to produce edible fruits, vegetables, and nuts, not to mention the seeds to sustain ensuing generations. Among all the insect pollinators, honeybees do...

Read more and comments...

A US Workforce That Produces $15 Billion of Economic Value Each Year Is Panicking

The Washington Post/Science   May 22, 2015

A crucial agricultural workforce in the United States that produces some $15 billion worth of economic value every year, according to the Obama administration, has been struck by alarming losses recently, frightening advocates and demanding attention from Washington. Yes, the country's bees are in trouble.

President Obama has a plan to deal with the massive number of bee deaths. But this might be a problem that biotechnology will ultimately have to solve.

About 42 percent of honeybee colonies died over the past year, according to a new survey. Though that's bad, it's not the worst in the past decade. Perhaps some reduction in bee numbers is to be expected as a growing and more prosperous human population adapts land to its own uses. But beekeepers must split surviving colonies to make up for bee deaths, straining insects and making the business increasingly difficult and expensive.

Government experts blame a complex set of factors. The 1987 arrival of the varroa destructor mite, which feeds on honeybee blood, appears to have contributed, along with disease, pesticide use and a reduction in the type and variety of forage that bees need.

The Obama administration wants to curtail all of these factors, lowering the rate of hive loss to no more than 15 percent within a decade, which would be economically sustainable for the bee industry. Top on the list is altering public and private lands — in national parks, roadside strips, building complexes, even the White House South Lawn — to create 7 million acres of suitable pollinator habitat. This involves, among other things, identifying plants that provide nutrition for honeybees in hopes of encouraging their cultivation.

That would help, and Congress should provide the necessary funds. But to many advocates, those sorts of measures don't face up to what they see as the real problem: a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids. The Environmental Protection Agency already has created rules restricting neonicotinoid use when bees are brought in to pollinate areas.

But anti-pesticide activists insist that persistent low-level exposure to neonicotinoids can harm bees, too. Plants absorb the pesticides even when bees aren't around, they say, which results in toxic pollen and nectar; even if contaminated bees don't die, these compounds can interfere with bees' capability to communicate, fly and navigate.

The European Union has put a moratorium on neonicotinoid use. The EPA is being more cautious. The agency isn't approving more uses for neonicotinoids, but it's also not taking products off the market yet, instead just limiting their application.

The agency says that the serious scientific work establishing the risk of low-level neonicotinoid exposure to bees is only just being done. Besides, the Obama administration's strategy notes, the goal is to "balance the unintended consequences of chemical exposure with the need for pest control."

In the end, that balance might be best achieved with new biotechnology: compounds and plants that target unwanted species while leaving others alone. As with many vexing environmental and resource challenges, governments and the public must be open to the promise of these sorts of innovations to improve both the environment and human welfare.

Read more:

How the White House Plans to Help the Humble Honey Bee Retain Its Buzz

The Washington Post   By Juliet Eilperin     May 19, 2015

The humble bee — nuisance, threat, and linchpin of the American food supply — has won over the leader of the free world. And now President Obama is intervening on the bee’s behalf as its habitat dwindles.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration will announce the first National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, a bureaucratic title for a plan to save the bee, other small winged animals and their breeding grounds. The initiative may feel like the kind of niche interest a second-term president devotes his time to, but scientists say his attention to the busy workforce that sustains many American crops is critical. While bee colonies regularly die off during winter because of stressful conditions, their sharp decline has been called a potential ecological disaster by some environmentalists and academic experts...



Feds Propose Multi-Pronged Plan to Bolster Decline in Bees

 Washington AP  By Seth Borenstein  May 19, 2015

The Obama administration hopes to save the bees by feeding them better.

A new federal plan aims to reverse America's declining honeybee and monarch butterfly populations by making millions of acres of federal land more bee-friendly, spending millions of dollars more on research and considering the use of fewer pesticides.

While putting different type of landscapes along highways, federal housing projects and elsewhere may not sound like much in terms of action, several bee scientists told The Associated Press that this a huge move. They say it may help pollinators that are starving because so much of the American landscape has been converted to lawns and corn that don't provide foraging areas for bees.

"This is the first time I've seen addressed the issue that there's nothing for pollinators to eat," said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum, who buttonholed President Barack Obama about bees when she received her National Medal of Science award last November. "I think it's brilliant."

Environmental activists who wanted a ban on a much-criticized class of pesticide said the Obama administration's bee strategy falls way short of what's needed to save the hives.

Scientists say bees — crucial to pollinate many crops...


White House Bee Strategy: