If you don’t believe it is important to advocate for the health of the honeybee populations around the world, take a good look at the dinner fork in your hand. Did you know it is estimated that bees are “responsible for about one in every three bites of food in the United States” (Bergeron 1)? Because of their integral role in pollinating our agricultural products, honeybees are indispensable in helping us to produce our food. As the Back Yard Beekeepers Association states, “Without such pollination, we would see a significant decrease in the yield of fruits and vegetables” (Back Yard Beekeepers 1). The Nature Conservancy also notes the bees’ importance as it states unequivocally, “the honey bee is the greatest pollinating machine when it comes to agriculture.” According to some estimates, the precious bees account for $15 to $18 billion annually as our commercial pollinators in the United States by “doing almost 80% of all crop pollination” ( Bergeron 1). Furthermore, the U.S. Agricultural Statistics Service reports the honey produced by bees in the United States adds upwards of $365 million dollars annually to the U.S. economy (USDA 1). On a worldwide basis, estimates of economic loss are even higher. One study concludes “if left unchecked, CCD has the potential to cause a $15 billion direct loss of crop production and $75 billion in indirect losses” (Rucker & Thurman 3). Because of their important role in both the production of our food and in the health in our overall economy, bees are essential players in the health and well being of all people, and therefore their worldwide preservation is a responsibility we all need to seriously address. Despite these critical issues, there is reluctance to support the necessary steps to help our honeybee populations to thrive. As this paper will argue, this reluctance is due in part to a general population that is uninformed and/or disinterested in how they can help to promote bee health, as well as due partly to commercial and governmental entities who fight the reduction of certain pesticides that are believed to contribute to the overall decline in bee populations worldwide. Finally, this paper will argue that individuals can advocate for bees in five important ways: by planting flowering plants, providing water sources, and keeping bees in their own backyards and communities; by registering their green space on the Pollinator Partnerships’ database to provide data to protect and promote pollinators like bees; by reducing the amount and type of pesticides in their own gardens; by buying local honey to support local beekeepers; and perhaps most importantly, they can advocate for safer use of pesticides used in commercial agriculture around the world.
The primary reason honeybee advocacy is so important is because of the drastic reduction in the numbers of honeybees worldwide. According to the Nature Conservancy, it is estimated that the number of honeybee colonies has “dropped to about 2.5 million from more than 4 million in the 1970’s.” Bergeron’s CNN report also indicates that this number is down from 5 million honeybees that were in existence in the 1940’s. This reduction is primarily realized through a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, characterized by honeybees in managed colonies that have “abandoned their colonies in masse, leaving behind the queen, young bees, and large stores of honey and pollen” (Suryanarayanan & Kleinman 2). These researchers report that the collapsing colonies result in an “insufficient amount of bees [that] are available to handle the brood” even though the queen bee is still present, resulting in “losses [that] have occurred rapidly and in large numbers.” Other sources acknowledge that the reason that the losses are occurring is technically unknown, however, it is noted that current thinking points to a cocktail of issues that are at fault such as disease, parasites, lack of nectar source diversity, and mites in addition to the more widespread use of pesticides (Merchant 2). The importance of bee preservation was not lost on Albert Einstein who once speculated that, ”If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live” (Benefits of Honey 1). Although Einstein was neither a beekeeper nor an entomologist, he grasped the critical importance of the issue. This grand statement from one of the world’s brightest minds acts as a wake-up call to urgently address issues of protection for the world’s bee population. As a result, it is crucial that as many individuals as possible must immediately advocate for a number of solutions in order to fully address the crisis of rampant CCD.
Arguing for lay individuals to promote bee health first requires the dispelling of certain myths that stand in the way of people’s actions to be effective advocates. First of all, some individuals do not advocate for bees because issues of allergies and/or bee stings frighten them. However, it is important to note that most stings in people are due wasps instead of bees. Wasps can sting repeatedly out of anger without dying, but bees sting very rarely and only out of fear of death, as they will die after they sting only once. Consequently, most stings in people occur from wasps rather than from bees. Thus, people should not fear a honeybee colony that is near their home, as the bees are relatively docile unless stepped on directly. In addition, a hive in your community should not put more people at risk since any individual who actually is allergic to bees should carry an Epi Pin at all times for immediate medical assistance if they are stung, whether there is a hive in the area or not (Triplett). It should also be noted that a nearby beehive does not necessarily increase one’s exposure to stings, since bees are known to travel up to five miles on their daily expeditions to gather pollen (Triplett), therefore bees in your environment may not necessarily come from the beehive next door.
Once individuals understand the behaviors and relatively calm nature of bees they are more likely to support the planting of flowering plants as well as adding bee hives and water sources to their immediate surroundings, both actions that help to promote the healthy lifestyles of bees (Chadwick et al. 77-111). Planting for bee health, aims to provide simple flowering plants as much as possible throughout the year, planting varieties that have not had all of the nectar and pollen bred out of them. Look for “bee friendly” labeling on seed packets to insure that you are planting the correct varieties. Under planting fruit trees with flowering plants, and increasing diversity in agricultural landscapes can also add to the habitat for wild bees, that also are very efficient pollinators in our ecosystems (Chadwick, et al. 77). In backyards, look also to reduce the mulch around the flowerbeds that prevent bees that nest in the ground from reaching the soil, thus increasing the bee’s habitats in your garden. Habitats can also be increased in your yard by providing dedicated bee “hotels” that are inexpensive and easy to make, without the commitment demands of a full-blown beehive. Inspired individuals can go into intensive beekeeping, but this demands a thorough education in beekeeping in order to manage the hive responsibly (Chadwick, et al. 86-87).
If individuals do undertake the commitment to become full-blown beekeepers, they should keep detailed notes about the behaviors discovered during their hive inspections in order to insure the health of their bee colony. These details should then be shared with the nonprofit group known as the Pollinator Partnership, whose sole mission is “to promote the health of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems through conservation, education, and research,” so that they can keep accurate details about the health of hives around the world (Gardeners 1).
If individuals are seeking a less time-intensive way to help support the health of bees, they can simply buy local honey which supports the efforts of those keeping bees in the local community. Although not as effective as a more comprehensive approach to bee advocacy, it is important to welcome every effort no matter how small, to help with the preservation of the worldwide bee population. Individuals can also reduce the amount of pesticides used in their gardens and fields, as certain types of pesticides have been indicated, although not proven, to have significant impacts on the bee populations around the world (McFarland and McFarland 15-19).
Pesticide use, in fact, is the most controversial aspect of arguing the need to address CCD all over the world, as many scientists, lay people, and beekeepers are at odds about how certain pesticides actually affect the overall health of honeybees. However, it is critical to understand this major issue in order to help explain this major decline that has affected our bee populations so drastically in the past few decades. Although, individual efforts are helpful to build awareness, it is impossible to help build back the significant numbers of bees that have been lost over time by disjointed, small scale efforts. It is also impossible to explain the major losses of bees without addressing large-scale shifts in our environment that can account for such a drastic change in the overall bee population. Evidence of these disturbing declines shows up in Steinheur’s comprehensive analysis entitled Colony Loss 2014-2015, a report that indicates 28.7% of the honeybee colonies managed in the United States were lost over a nine-year period. In another article from Yale University researcher Elizabeth Grossman, quotes an even higher loss as she states, “For much of the past 10 years, beekeepers, primarily in the United States and Europe, have been reporting annual hive losses of 30 percent or higher, substantially more than is considered normal.” One major change in our agricultural environments that could account for such drastic increases in CCD is the use of certain pesticides known as neonicotinoids (also referred to as “neonics” for short) that were originally used to replace DDT as a pesticide because DDT was proven to be harmful to humans. However, neonics have been shown in some studies to lead to sharp declines in queen bees and also “interfere with the ability of bees to navigate back to their hives” (Grossman 4). Since neonics have been shown in the U.S. to be used on about “95 percent of corn and canola crops; the majority of cotton, sorghum, and sugar beets; and about half of all soybeans” their impact on our environment is enormous and very widespread (Grossman 3). The Yale researcher later continues, “They are also used on the vast majority of fruit and vegetable crops, including apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and potatoes [as well as] cereal grains, rice, nuts, and wine grapes.” All of these products are grown in many different regions of the world, including right here in Colorado (Triplett). With this wide of a reach, the pervasive use of this pesticide could easily have far reaching effects that could account for such massive declines in the bee populations. Although some studies, particularly those funded by the pesticide companies, refute the connection (Jolly 2), other studies as well as data from actual beekeepers insist that neonics are harmful if not deadly to the bee colonies around the world. Researchers such as Suryanarayanan and Kleinman in the article Disappearing Bees and Reluctant Regulators, also stated,
Several beekeepers observed CCD unfolding in the fields of commercial growers with occurrence of CCD and the proximity of their hives to fields treated with relatively new systemic insecticides such as neonicotinoid \
imidacloprid. Affected beekeepers reported that CCD occurred in colonies several months after initial exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides…
This, the beekeepers surmised, had long-term progressive effects on developing bees that were chronically exposed to accumulating insecticidal stores. (Suryanarayanan & Kleinman 5)
The authors then go on to recommend that there is significant justification for regulators to insist on limiting bee exposure to these pesticides as a precautionary approach. Controversy continues as the pesticide industry fights against the banning of neonics because they risk major financial losses, however, independent researchers and beekeepers contend that the negative effects on the bee population are significant and real. As Steve Ellis, a Minnesota-based beekeeper, states “These compounds are a nightmare scenario for pollinators. There is no way to prevent exposure to these chemicals,” he continues, “The only question is exposure level, whether that is a problem or not. The pesticide industry claims not. The beekeeping industry says yes” (Grossman 4). Although the pesticide industry claims the pesticide “reduces by orders of magnitude the amount present in the plant when it flowers,” (Benbrook 1) the U.S. Geological Survey has recorded the presence of neonics in rivers and streams. In addition, data from Washington State documents residues in numerous foods. Thus, there is significant data that suggests these chemicals do not disappear from our environment once they are applied on the fields (Benbrook 1). Penn State researchers also confirm the detrimental effects of the continued use of this pesticide, stating “There’s going to be a shortage of bees in this entire growing season…Whether we’ve reached a point of no return, we don’t know” (qtd. In Grossman 5).
Therefore, it is in our best interest to follow the example of the European Union, as their European Commission recently voted to impose a temporary ban the use of neonics until the actual effects of the pesticide can be fully understood. This cautionary legislation is the only way to avoid the potentially irreversible effects of neonics on the world’s food supply as well as on the bee population as a whole. As a nation, and as individuals it is all of our best interests to do whatever we can to influence our stale, local, and national officials to follow the lead of the EU and ban neonics from use in our agriculture. The future of our bee populations and in turn, the future of the entire human race depends on our careful stewardship of the natural world, so it is firmly in all of our hands to do the most we can to insure we, and all of God’s creatures, can all live long, happy, and healthy lives.
In conclusion, it is up to us as individuals to do whatever we can to insure the health and safety of our honeybee populations. Whether it is planting flowers, building habitats, buying local honey, hanging bee hotels, raising our own bee colonies, or fighting commerce to regulate the pesticide industry, every effort is a step forward toward ensuring the health and safety of the world’s honeybees. It is all of our responsibilities to do whatever we can to help maintain the delicate balance of nature. If we fail do so, future generations will pay the price for our shortcomings, not just in the health of the bee population, but because of our interdependence on the bee’s role in our food supply, we consequently affect the health, wellbeing and longevity of the entire human race.
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