Four years into the largest die-off of honey bees that has been recorded, we are finding how resilient the honey bees and the people who tend to them are. One of our followers sent me at link to a presentation recorded in the summer of 2008 by one of the researchers working to uncover the causes of honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder. Though some time has passed since the recording was made, the conditions, driven by pesticides, toxins, and disease, described in 2008 remain accurate today. Dennis VanEnglesdorp, acting as the State Apiarist for Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture as well as conducting research at Penn State University, passionately describes the condition of beekeeping in America. Bees serve us in a most important way: We rely upon the honey bee to provide one bite out of every three that we eat. This is accomplished by honey bees completing the reproductive step of pollination of our flowering crops. The bees that do this work are carried about the country on trucks by a group of crafty, determined migratory beekeepers. In spite of heavy losses, they have been able to maintain colony counts by splitting hives each year.
VanEnglesdorp asks why bees are now suddenly susceptible to the conditions that result in CCD. He mentions the heavy dependence our agriculture places upon pesticides. Studies are being conducted to identify the pesticides found inside bee hives. Interestingly, some of the hives with the greatest amount of pesticide are healthy. Some beekeepers attribute this to the deadly result of having too many parasitic mites in a hive. Possibly, those beekeepers who used pesticides heavily in the hive more effectively controlled the Varroa mites and the viruses that they vector. VanEnglesdorp describes our environment as suffering from “Nature Deficit Disorder.” To help correct this situation, he suggests we “make meadows, not lawns.” I photographed a mule deer eating fireweed, a famous honey source, in a Wyoming meadow. Hear VanEnglesdorp’s enthusiastic 16-minute presentation at www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/dennis_vanengelsdorp_a_plea_for_bees.html.