(Beyond Pesticides, May 13, 2013) According to preliminary results of a survey by the Bee Informed Partnership, 31.1 percent of managed honey bee colonies in the U.S. were lost during the 2012/2013 winter. Though these preliminary loss reports are similar to the past six year average of 30.5 percent, the new loss numbers represent a 42 percent increase compared to the previous winter. Survey participants indicate that they consider a loss rate of 15 percent as “acceptable,” but 70 percent of participants suffered losses greater than this. With continued winter bee losses of over 30%, and concern whether there will be enough bees to pollinate U.S. crops this year, beekeepers and environmentalists say it is imperative that regulators act by banning the neonicotiniod pesticides that have been implicated in the global decline of honey bee populations.
In addition to this national report, several state level incidents of large scale honey bee colony losses have been reported. In a recent incident in Florida, citrus groves experienced an acute foliar poisoning that resulted in severely damaged colonies. Oranges had an early bloom this year, and were still blooming near the end of April. One beekeeper’s colonies suffered immense losses due to drift from an application of Montana 2F, an imdacloprid-based insecticide, from a neighboring grove. 1000-1500 colonies were killed, while 10,000-13,000 colonies suffered severe damage. Citrus trees were sprayed while bees were actively foraging during daylight hours. The foliar application directions on Montana 2F’s label clearly state, “Do not apply during bloom or within 10 days prior to bloom or when bees are actively foraging.” Imidacloprid is one of the neonicotinoid pesticides that have been linked to dramatic bee declines. Recently, the European Commission voted to ban the use of these chemicals.
In Maryland, close to 60 percent of the managed hives died during the 2012/2013 winter, according to the state bee inspector and local beekeepers. “This is the worst I’ve seen in 35 years. We didn’t all get stupid at once. I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t our stupidity,” said Steve McDaniel, a 35-year beekeeper and retired chemist. Maryland depends on a robust honey bee population to pollinate a large volume of the state’s crops. These crops ”” apples, melons, berries and pumpkins ”” are valued in excess of $40 million.
In Canada, beekeepers are calling on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to allow commercial beekeepers to import package bees from the U.S. because of higher than expected bee losses this past winter. Some beekeepers reported average losses of up to 50 percent of their hives. Though weather is seen as a major factor in the wintering losses of Canadian honey bees, the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists also argue that the use of systemic pesticides are connected to these dramatic bee loses.
In study after study pesticides, specifically neonicotinoids, have been linked to bee declines. These chemicals are used extensively in U.S. agriculture, especially as seed treatment for corn and soybeans. Agriculture is not the only concern however, as pesticide applications in home gardens, city parks, and landscaping are also prime culprits in the proliferation of these harmful chemicals. The systemic residues of these pesticides not only contaminate pollen, nectar, and the wider environment, but have repeatedly been identified as highly toxic to honey bees.
Recently, Beyond Pesticides launched a comprehensive campaign called BEE Protective to support nationwide local action aimed at protecting honey bees and other pollinators from pesticides. BEE Protective is releasing a variety of educational materials, including a BEE Protective Habitat Guide, providing information on creating native pollinator habitat in communities, eliminating bee-toxic chemicals, and other advocacy tools. The campaign also encourages municipalities, campuses, and homeowners to adopt policies that protect bees and other pollinators from harmful pesticide applications and create pesticide-free refuges for these beneficial organisms. In addition to scientific and regulatory information, BEE Protective also includes a model community pollinator resolution and a pollinator protection pledge.
For more information on bee losses please visit Beyond Pesticides’ Pollinators and Pesticides page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.