Bee Decline, Politics, and Passion

I’ve been writing a lot about bees lately.  They’re quite topical, bee-ing in the news a lot; with the EU banning the sale/distribution of certain neonicitinoid products they’re pretty big news in many parts of the globe.  Heck, bees ARE important, not to mention hella adorable.  But how should we go about protecting our bee populations?  What is causing the ‘ailment’ Colony Collapse Disorder?  The answer is we don’t really know just yet.  There are a lot of ideas and much evidence to supports that it is far more than one item but most likely a combination of multiple factors.  A recent study reinforce this perspective.

What is causing CCD?  First off, this is not a new phenomena.  We have examples of brood die offs which match what we now call CCD from almost a hundred years ago.  Prior to being called Colony Collapse Disorder it was called Fall Dwindle Disease as well as a myriad of other things.  Different regions had a different name for it and it wasn’t until 2006 that it was solidified as CCD.  Neonics have been around for a while and are getting a bad rap for killing bees.  Well, you know what?  They do kill bees.  These products are insecticides and, though not all insecticides are harmful to bees, these can be.  So is banning their use completely a good idea?  Not at the present time.  Our economy is agriculturally dependent.  We want our oranges in December and soybeans need to go in everything.  That’s just how it is at the moment.  And if you want those and other items you’re going to need both the bees to pollinate them and the insecticides to keep the pests away.    Transgenic crops have done much to help cut back on the amount of insecticides needed for these agricultural crops but some are still needed and other methods, such as coating the seeds so the spray is not needed have helped too.  BUT, even that coating can be a potential hazard as a recent investigation suggests.

Other factors that we need to keep in mind is just what is it we are feeding to the bees?  I’m not talking about these studies that load up sugar water with unlikely-to-come-into-contact-with levels of pesticides and then report that the bees had (amazingly!) suffered as a result.  No, what I’m talking about is how we use our bees, how we manage them, and what it is we’re actually making them pollinate.  There is A LOT more to the story than just pesticides.  I received a reply to a previous post from a person who stated that ALL pesticides were responsible for bee deaths and that pretty soon bumble bees and honey bees would all be gone unless we stop using the pesticides.  She cited blogs as sources (not a problem, feel free to cite me…some blogs have good information, I just spout off ramblings about stuff but some have good info) and after reviewing those blogs I noted a common theme.  No. Supporting. Objective. Evidence.  Everything was purely that visceral, I’m gonna yell and scream about this because it makes me sad and I want to do something about it – blog.  Trust me, I know what that feeling is like.  But, I do my best to provide evidence and make that evidence relate-able and understandable.

Pesticides are not great for insects.  Duh.  That’s part of the point.  And when used inappropriately or with little objective research to back up the products, we can have problems.  Back to the person commenting on my Bee post, this idea about pesticides are all bad is not unique and is growing in popularity.  In this instance, ignorance and/or laziness was to blame…in my opinion.  But, after researching it a little more I learned a new tidbit of information…those trees the bumble bees were feeding on?  Toxic in high quantities.  Yup.  There is supporting evidence that when exposed to the nectar of those trees in high doses it can be harmful to bees.  Is that was caused this problem?  I’m gonna say No.  Again, see previous post about the stupid.  But this isn’t the only example of possible complications due to poor management tactics.  The vast majority of honey bees (60%!!!) in this country are used to pollinate almonds.  Forcing pollinators to feed only within a monocrop you are severely harming their health.  The actual value of almond pollen and nectar isn’t even that great.  (For an interesting read of pollen nutrient values check this article out). Almonds are even potentially toxic as well.  So, when we have these bees going out, pollinating only one select crop, which is of low nutrient quality and potentially toxic in high amounts, and then we see die back, why do we automatically scream “PESTICIDES!!!  IT’S THE PESTICIDES!”?

What is likely going on, (and again, more and more evidence supports) is the bee decline is a result of multiple factors.  We stick the bees with one crop and one crop only to pollinate.  And if that crop happens to be of poor nutrient value, oh well; with no, or little, sugar supplementation.  Additionally, these bees are trucked across the country where they can encounter other bees which may have been exposed to a number of viruses and pathogens.  Particularly the varroa mite.  Varroa Mites are bad.  And I mean B.A.D.  If you get the mites in your hive, you have to treat with an acaricide to get rid of them.  And when the bees are being exposed to the mites, nosema, poor food quality, limited resource diversity, viruses, and pesticides, yeah, the bees are going to suffer.  There are far too many confounding factors to say that only one thing is the cause.  We can’t even really say that TWO things are the cause.  Think of it as if the bees have HIV.  There’s this thing living in the bee hive.  It’s slowly weakening them.  Sometimes they’ll get some amazing food or have some years without disease and mites.  Then they prosper.  But after years of fighting this off, they get exposed to something, be it a poor food year, pesticides, mites, etc, and it’s all down hill from there.

If you take one thing away from this post I hope it’s this…take a breath, chill for a bit, and then try and approach management and pesticide programs with the understanding that there is more to it than just disease, or just pests, or just pesticides.  Pesticides can be harmful.  Improperly researched and used pesticides can be very bad for a species or even ecosystem.  I have a lot to say about my frustration regarding pesticide research being done by companies and not universities or other (relatively) unbiased sources, but this post is already too long.  Take your time, do some research, and the next time someone on Facebook starts screaming about banning everything because it’s all going to kill us!!!!AAAAAhhhhhh!!!!!  Do your own version of a Snopes check and look into the validity of their statement and educate yourself and others.  Then, use that information to make educated and pro-active advocacy decisions.  I like bees and don’t want to lose them.  Let’s work together, smartly to make sure that we keep those cute, fuzzy, ladies.


Bees, Politics, and Nothing Gets Done But Stupid

Remember that post from a few weeks ago?  No?  That’s okay, I forgive you.  Basically a pest control operator didn’t follow label recommendations and sprayed an insecticide on some flowering trees in a Target parking lot.  The label specifically states to not use it when bees may be present (i.e. when the bloody plant is flowering) because it might kill bees.  What happened?  Bees died.   A bunch of them.  Depending upon where you look this can be 25,000 or 50,000.  This number will depend upon the slant of the article/blog post that you’re reading.

So what do you think should happen? When we last spoke about this issue, there had not been a decision made.  The company, state and company were trying to figure out what was going to happen.  Would they sanction the company for not following the law?  Would the company have to pay a fine?  Would nothing at all happen and everyone could just ride off into the sunset and eat cookies?  Well, apparently none of the above have happened yet.  But what HAS happened is the ODA (Oregon Department of Agriculture) has placed a 180 moratorium on products containing dinotefuran (the active ingredient in the Safari product the company used) in the state.  This appears to be only applicable to agricultural, turf, and ornamental products, not other products such as flea and tick treatments (which I’ve talked about before).

What does this mean?  Well, the ban has been placed while the state assesses what to do.  It seems silly but I can kind of understand it in a superficial, gotta keep politics-politics and keep the screaming masses happy sort of way.  I’ve seen House of Cards, I know what’s up in the legislatures.  But what does this mean for the bees?  Probably not a whole lot really.  Politicians will squabble.  Activist groups who are split between those who understand science and those functioning on pure visceral reactions will bicker with said politicians and eventually nothing of consequence will be done.  The question here isn’t so much “How do we keep the bees safe?” but rather “How do we make sure people are using these products APPROPRIATELY, SAFELY, and LEGALLY?”  Come on people!  If you’re going to spray something at least read the bloody label first.

Totally legit Bumble Bee

Wait…insecticides kill bees? Well color me flabbergasted!

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of posts regarding the loss of 25,000 bees in Oregon.  One site that was shared with me says the death toll has risen to 50,000 however I have not seen any other sources citing this.  It may well be true.  But this isn’t the problem many are making it out to bee (get it?  Bee?  Yeah, I know…stick with the science).   Here’s the scoop on what happened…

The Linden trees apparently had aphids and the company that owns/leases that parking lot (Target) called in a company to treat the aphids.  The company used a product called Safari a very common and quite effective insecticide.  The active ingredient is Dinotefuran which, if you’ve read some of my previous posts you know it is used in a lot of insecticide products include Vectra, a flea treatment for some pets (do NOT use Safari on your pets!!!!!!!).    If you read the label for Safari, this is what it says regarding bees:

“This product is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment or residues on blooming crops or weeds. Do not apply this product or allow it to drift to blooming crops or weeds if bees are visiting the treatment area.”

So what happened that caused these bees to be killed?  The company, not complying with label instructions applied this insecticide to blooming trees which were clearly being pollinated by the bumble bees.  The bees came in to obtain pollen from the trees, were exposed and then died.  These deaths have nothing to do with what is termed Colony Collapse Disorder.  How do I know?  Because these are bumble bees, not honey bees.  Apis mellifera (The European Honey Bee, which we use for our pollination services in this country) are what have been associated with CCD.

Bumble Bee (Bombus terrestris)
The European Honey Bee (sometimes called The Western Honey Bee). Apis mellifera

The Oregon Dept. of Agriculture as well as the manufacturer of Safari are presently determining what to do in regard to the company.  Whatever they decide we clearly have a problem here.  Not with insecticides, but with how these products are used and treated.  Did these people make a simple mistake and not know?  Well, as someone who had to apply herbicide for an organization before, I can tell you they were negligent in their duties as we were required to read ALL labels of the different herbicides we were going to use.  You also have to be state certified (study and pass a test) in order to apply most of these products, especially on a commercial level.

Were they fully aware of the potential damage that could be done and they just didn’t care?  I doubt malice was a factor…who goes out and says, “I’m gonna kill some bees today!?!”  No one.

No, the reality of the situation is probably much simpler yet in application, more complex.  It comes from a misunderstanding of pesticides and how they interact with the environment.  Where does that come from?  A lack of scientific literacy…as well as a need for the all mighty dollar.

Supposedly nets have been place to help prevent further bee deaths but this could easily have been avoided by following label instructions and selecting the appropriate treatment methods which can include non-synthetic chemical methods.  However, those methods are typically more expensive or just plain old more time intensive.  But sometimes taking that extra time is worth it.  And in this case, I would say adding an extra hour to the shift would have been preferable to a potential lawsuit.

***Note: After posting this I would like to add that it is possible that the company didn’t know the bees were pollinating the trees.  If they went out on a cool day when the bees weren’t flying it is possible they didn’t notice them.  Please keep that in mind.

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