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THE WONDERS – Film about a beekeeping family



Watch trailer here:



**Cannes Film Festival 2014 – WINNER – Grand Prix**
**Toronto International Film Festival 2014 (Official Selection)**
**New York Film Festival 2014 (Official Selection)**
**AFI FEST 2014 (Official Selection)**

THE WONDERS, winner of the Grand Prix at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and a standout at the New York Film Festival is young Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher’s (CORPO CELESTE) entrancing, richly textured drama centers on a family of beekeepers living in stark isolation in the Tuscan countryside. The dynamic of their overcrowded household is disrupted by the simultaneous arrival of a silently troubled teenage boy taken in as a farmhand and a reality TV show (featuring a host played by Monica Bellucci) intent on showcasing the family. Both intrusions are of particular interest to the eldest daughter, Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu), who is struggling to find her footing in the world, and Rohrwacher conveys her adolescent sense of wonder and confusion with graceful naturalism.


THE WONDERS will open in Los Angeles on November 27 (New York on October 30) with a national roll-out to follow.


Written and Directed by Alice Rohrwacher. Produced by Carlo Cresto-Dina, Karl “Baumi” Baumgartner, Tiziana Soudani, Michael Weber. Starring Alba Rohrwacher, Monica Bellucci, Alexandra Lungu, Sam Louwyck, Sabine Timoteo, Agnese Graziani.


Running Time:             111 minutes
Rating:                       Unrated
Language:                   Italian, French, German (w/English subtitles)
Press Materials: 

Read full story · Posted in News, Yay Bees

Breeding, buying and Varroa: a few thoughts

By HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki

I have had a lot of cognitive dissonance lately from the talk among beeks about breeding, treating, buying queens, etc. Maybe you’ve run into some of the same. If so, here’s a small bit of information that cements my certainty that when we select for certain traits we inadvertently de-select for things that serve the organism and discard important traits we definitely don’t want to lose.    

Our feral bees have strong characteristics of hygiene, pest and disease resistance. They tend to propagate a small worker bee (4.7 to 4.9 mm brood cell diameter) which allows the young bee to beat the emergence of parasitic varroa by emerging before the mite completes its development by at least one day. This natural characteristic of Africanized honey bees is being sought by bee breeders of European honey bees through genetic selection in laboratories with artificial insemination of queens and with strict control of drone mating areas. I have found that the behavior of our bees in pre-selecting young brood—before they emerge—by uncapping at the purple-eye development stage—is clearly apparent in my hive inspections.   


I was asking Michael Bush (author of the “Practical Beekeeper—Beekeeping Naturally”) some questions recently about these processes and the attempts to circumvent natural selection by purchasing queens from breeders for the trait of varroa resistance or VSH (varroa sensitive hygiene). He sent a very interesting answer, including a quote from eminent beek, Kirk Webster.

One thing to know—Michael kept a large, 4 frame, glassed observation hive for several years in his living room with a tube to allow the bees to come and go. This device was very instructive for understanding what bees actually do, minute to minute over a long period of time.

To Michael from Susan:
I have a question about the uncapping of brood at the purple eye stage. [During pupae development,coloration begins with the eyes: first pink, then purple, then black.]   I have always taught (and believed) that this signals a problem with the larvae and the bees plan to drag that pupa out and discard it.     Is that correct? 

Michael’s answer:
It is a sign of hygienic behavior if they uncap the brood.  Dee [Lusby] says they remove the mite and leave the larva.  I was not trying to answer that question when I was observing uncapping in my observation hive, so I never noticed.  Sometimes they removed them.  But recapping them would not be inconsistent with my observation though I never tried to track that.

I think VSH is going to turn out to be a very bad idea to breed for. There are already reports (lots of them) from people who say their VSH bees cleaned up the entire brood nest and threw the brood out of the hive.  I think they are breeding OCD bees.

I think any breeding for one trait has always failed spectacularly in any species we humans have attempted it.  We should look at the big picture.



“We’re making the same mistake with our honey-bees.  We’re trying to ensure the failure of modern bee-keeping by focusing too much on single traits; by ignoring the elements of Wildness; and by constantly treating the bees.  The biggest mistake of all is to continue viewing mites and other “pests” as enemies that must be destroyed, instead of allies and teachers that are trying to show us a path to a better future.  The more virulent a parasite is, the more powerful a tool it can be for improving stocks and practice in the future.  All the boring and soul-destroying work of counting mites on sticky boards, killing brood with liquid nitrogen, watching bees groom each other, and measuring brood hormone levels—all done in thousands of replications—will someday be seen as a colossal waste of time when we finally learn to let the Varroa mites do these things for us.  My own methods of propagating, selecting and breeding bees, worked out through many years of trial and error, are really just an attempt to establish and utilize Horizontal breeding with honeybees—to create a productive system that preserves
and enhances the elements of Wildness.  My results are not perfect, but they have enabled me to continue making a living from bees without much stress, and have a positive outlook for the future.  I have no doubt that many other beekeepers could easily achieve these same results, and then surpass them.”

–Kirk Webster, many decades beekeeper in Vermont, treatment free, survivor stock “What’s Missing From The Current Discussion And Work Related To Bees That’s Preventing Us From Making
Good Progress?”

Read full story · Posted in Newsletter Articles

“What’s the Buzz?: Keeping Bees In Flight”

Check out this new book “What’s the Buzz?: Keeping Bees In Flight” written by Merrie-Ellen Wilcox!

What’s the Buzz?: Keeping Bees in Flight is part of the Orca Footprints series, a middle grade nonfiction series meant to encourage ecological literacy and global solutions to ongoing environmental issues. What’s the Buzz? celebrates bees and encourages young readers to do their part to keep bees in flight.

“[A] thorough and fascinating look at these insects…Wilcox, who describes her own foray into beekeeping in the introduction, raises and answers…questions in easy prose. Great photos of kids, bees, and hives enhance the text…A useful option for science teachers and students curious about bees and ecology.”
—School Library Journal

More details and reviews available on

Read full story · Posted in Yay Bees

LA Times: “L.A. City Hall buzz: Backyard beekeeping should be legalized”



Los Angeles lawmakers voted Wednesday in favor of making backyard beekeeping legal in the city, part of a growing urban reaction to the dwindling honeybee population.

Beekeeping isn’t allowed in residential zones under existing city codes, according to planning officials. But the practice has grown among Angelenos concerned about the survival of honeybees. Scientists warn that shrinking populations of the pollinators — linked to pesticides, climate change and disease — could threaten apples, almonds and a host of other important crops.

“We want to enable this increasingly popular activity even while we preserve the rights of the city to address any complaints about poorly maintained hives,” Councilman Jose Huizar said Wednesday.

The L.A. City Council voted to direct city lawyers to finalize the wording of a new ordinance and bring it back for their approval.

Los Angeles is following in the footsteps of nearby Santa Monica, which legalized backyard beekeeping four years ago, as well as the cities of San Diego, Seattle and New York City…

“If a beehive is properly managed by the owner of the bees, there’s very little risk to anybody,” Mar Vista resident William Scheding said last week.

The proposed regulations would require Angelenos who keep bees at home to register with the county and place their hives a minimum distance from the edges of their property and nearby streets. The new rules would not affect commercial beekeeping, which is already allowed in agricultural and some industrial areas.

Only one hive would be allowed for every 2,500 square feet of a keeper’s property, which would enable two hives on the typical Los Angeles residential lot, according to the planning department.

Beekeepers would also have to install their hives high above the ground or erect a tall wall, hedge or fence to help usher bees at least six feet above the ground when they leave the area, “to minimize interactions between bees and individuals in the vicinity,” according to draft rules. And they would be required to provide a source of water for their bees, to discourage them from seeking out nearby swimming pools.

Establishing hives would not require permits, but the city could order beekeepers to remove their hives if violations of the regulations are found.

[click here to read the full article]


89.3 KPCC:LA homeowners may soon have the right to own bees

CBS Los Angeles:LA City Council Approves Draft Proposal To Allow Hobbyist Beekeepers To Maintain Hives

Los Angeles Daily News:Backyard hives close to legal in Los Angeles despite ‘killer bee’ fears

Christian Science Monitor: “Los Angeles buzzing over backyard beehives

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz, Yay Bees

One step closer to legal beekeeping in LA


Backyard Beekeeping Ordinance:
PLUM Committee Moves Ordinance Forward To City Attorney

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) of the City Council approved the proposed Backyard Beekeeping Ordinance provisions at their regular meeting on August 25, 2015, and transmitted the Draft Ordinance to the City Attorney’s Office with no amendments. The City Attorney’s Office will now look over the Ordinance as to form and legality, and then transmit it back to the PLUM Committee.

Audio of the PLUM meeting on August 24, 2015 is available online (at 2 hours 20 minutes):

What’s Next:
City Attorney’s Office transmits the final ordinance to PLUM, who will then forward it to the full City Council. While the timeline for these steps is uncertain, the PLUM Committee stated their eagerness to see the Backyard Beekeeping Ordinance move through the process as quickly as possible, which was noted by the City Attorney.

Related articles:

Read full story · Posted in News, Yay Bees

Queens and Inspections

by HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki

One of the most important regular events in the life of a beekeeper is the inspection of the hive to verify that the queen is laying and the workers are vigorous. It’s late July, so the queen is laying less and the bees are not as focused on brood rearing as they were earlier in the year, but we still must inspect the brood nest every 3-4 weeks to verify that the queen is doing her job. 

I often hear newbees say that they “know” they have a laying queen because they see the bees bringing in pollen. This is not a reliable sign; even a queenless hive will show the pollen gatherers robotically still bringing in pollen because that’s their job!

The only way to know the status of your Queen Mother is to actually see eggs and open brood. You do not need to see HER, only the evidence of her work. Proper smoking technique is essential for calming and observing the bees, so if you do not know what that is please read up on the HoneyLove website.

If your hive stack is several boxes high, it is best to go to the bottom level first by setting aside the other boxes so not all the bees are driven to the bottom box (crowding them) by the smoking and inspection process. Foragers returning will also add to the number in the entry box, so place the boxes in a stack in reverse order to be able to look into the bottom level first.

Alternately, If your hive is grumpy, place a towel or piece of plywood over each box as you remove it so the individual bee boxes are isolated from each other and contained. Check the frames in the first hive body for eggs and open brood. Eggs are very small and it is essential that you be able to identify them. Use a strong set of glasses or a magnifier if you need to.

Older hives—two years or more—will often abandon the lowest level the first winter and most brood rearing will occur in the next level up while excess bee bread and honey will be stored in the bottom box. There is no satisfactory answer from experts as to why this happens but it is common.

Sometimes a colony loses their queen and a worker (or a number of workers) begin laying drone eggs as compensation. There can be entire frames of capped and open drone brood. This is called having a “laying worker hive” and obviously leads to a dead end. Sometimes the bees do not have the resources of eggs less that four days old to make a replacement queen, so in their desperation they will draw queen cells that contain only drone eggs laid by the workers.

This is a very confusing sign if the beekeeper has not been attentive and missed the change in population dynamics by way of regular inspections. It is imperative that the beekeeper act on the situation, though, as the colony is fated to die out.

Know what a good brood frame looks like by practicing attentive observation on a queen right hive. A laying worker hive can be remedied by newspapering in a swarm, putting the queen right colony under the queen-less colony with a double screen board and leaving the stack for two weeks, then combining them. There are a number of additional fix-its; Michael Bush’s site has an exhaustive list of the many remedies at

In closing, frequent inspections year-round is the key along with on-going education.

Read full story · Posted in Newsletter Articles

READ: Why urban dwellers should be raising bees on their rooftops

Noah Wilson-Rich studies bees and the diseases that are depleting their colonies. He founded the Best Bees Company, a Boston based beekeeping service and research organization, has given a TED talk, and is now the author of The Bee: A Natural History, recently published by Princeton University Press. Today he shares with us the vital importance of urban beekeeping.

By Noah Wilson-Rich via

Nearly a decade after the start of Colony Collapse Disorder (C.C.D.), a bizarre phenomenon whereby honey bees simply vanished from their hives across the United States during 2006-2011, bees are still dying at unsustainable rates today. Across the country, about one in every three hives does not survive the winter. Germany shares this alarming statistic across their apiaries. Bee deaths seem higher in areas with harsh winters and in areas with monoculture agriculture use – but lower death rates in cities. In Boston, urban bees not only survive the winter at higher rates, but they also produce more honey than beehives in surrounding suburban and rural environments.

Bees are vitally important creatures. We tend to give honey bees (Apis mellifera) all the credit for pollination because most people are familiar with the old man beekeeper working his white painted beehives image. Yet, honey bees are only one species of bee from about 20,000 total species worldwide. Their contributions span far past pollinating around 100 fruit and vegetable crops that we rely upon, and an estimated $100 billion to the global economy each year. Of the $15 billion that bees contribute to the United States economy annually, the alfalfa bee alone contributes an estimated $7 billion. The alfalfa bee! (Cattle rely on alfalfa for feed.) If the future of humanity is to involve nutritious food, then we must consider bees.

Regardless of what caused or ended C.C.D., or why bees are thriving in cities, the discovery of urban beekeeping as a safe haven for bees gives us hope. The post-C.C.D. world still has myriad dangers for bees; they are still dying. The three leading hypotheses for what’s killing bees: 1) Diseases, 2) Chemicals (e.g., fungicides, pesticides, etc.), and 3) Habitat loss. The Typhoid Mary event for bees that opened the flood gates to a series of additive plagues was in 1987, when Varroa mites first came to the United States. In 1998, small hive beetles were added. In 2004, imported Australian honey bees brought with them Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. In 2006, C.C.D. began. In 2013, the fungus Nosema ceranae became omnipresent in all 200 hives that my laboratory sampled. And we haven’t even started on the pesticides, fungicides, and habitat loss yet.

Spring brings to light the brighter side of things. My beekeeping team was back out this year, tirelessly checking hives, maneuvering rooftop equipment on skyscrapers, trekking through waist-high snow drifts, looking for signs of life. One team returned to our Urban Beekeeping Laboratory and Bee Sanctuary in Boston’s South End, reporting that 100% of the day’s hives visited were alive. I assume they stayed around Boston or Cambridge that day, and my suspicion was right. The next day, another team of beekeepers returned from the field, their faces long trodden and forlorn, with only 1 out of 15 hives visited that day having survived the winter. I assumed they visited countryside beehives; I was right.

Policy makers are increasing their legislative actions to be more permissive for urban beehives, with beekeeping allowed in Seattle in 2008, New York City in 2010, Boston in 2014. San Francisco totally allows beekeeping unrestricted, while Denver limits to 2 hives in the rear 1/3 of a zone lot. Los Angeles is slated to be the next major metro area to allow beekeeping in residential areas. Even Washington, DC now has its first beehives at the White House grounds, in step with President Obama’s 2014 memorandum, “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.”

Urban beekeeping took flight in New York City in March of 2010. It was made illegal by the Giuliani administration in the 1990’s, along with a list of dozens of prohibited animals. In the years since its legalization, the island of Manhattan became a pollinator haven. After my recent talk at the March 30, 2015 meeting of the New York City Beekeepers Association, local beekeepers asked if there were too many beehives in the city. Beekeepers in London talk about this, as well. Is there a saturation point, with too many beehives in the City? That’s how common beekeeping is in New York and London. (One way to measure this is based on the Great Sunflower Project, whereby everyday citizens record the number of bees visiting a flower for 10 minutes each day, as a means of gathering data to measure pollinator abundance; this hasn’t yet been done for cities.)

Los Angeles is the only major city in the United States with illegal beekeeping. The pesticide policy came into effect long ago, way before “killer bees” gave the non-aggressive bees a bad rap. Rather, policy makers received bad info, that bees attack fruit – and decided that the best way to preserve our crops was to ban the bees. We now understand pollination. We know that more bees actually lead to more fruits and vegetables. Yet the law of the land remains, and Angelinos must kill beehives upon site. The future for beekeepers in Los Angeles may be bright, however, with City Councilor Katie Peterson and other policy makers working to legalize beekeeping as soon as within the next few months.

Access to urban beekeeping is a social justice issue. It gives everyone access to local, healthy food. What’s more is that is allows for a new avenue of corporate sustainability, with businesses opting to put beehives on their rooftops as a display of their commitment to the environment. For example, simply reusing a towel or having an herb garden on the rooftop is not necessarily enough these days for a hotel to rise to the top of the sustainability ranks. Beekeeping and pollinator protection are the next step for sustainability branding.

Urban beekeeping is happening across the globe, and it’s a good thing. We should change laws to allow more of it to happen and also educate the public so they can also raise bees on their rooftops to allow for a more sustainable future for both humans and bees, alike.

Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D. is founder and chief scientific officer of The Best Bees Company, a Boston-based company. His latest book is THE BEE: A Natural History.

Read the introduction here, and take a peek inside here:

Read full story · Posted in News

WATCH: The Death Of Bees Explained

In 2015 the bees are still dying in masses. Which at first seems not very important until you realize that one third of all food humans consume would disappear with them. Millions could starve. The foes bees face are truly horrifying – some are a direct consequence of human greed. We need to help our small buzzing friends or we will face extremely unpleasant consequences.

Read full story · Posted in Yay Bees

READ: Stung By Dead Bees

By Glen Martin via

Commercial pollinators demand that regulators protect honeybees from potent insecticides. 

For 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 most of the work.

In early spring, the California almond industry requires approximately 1.4 million hives, or 60 percent of the nation’s managed colonies. With so much demand, you would think that Anderson’s migratory pollination business would be secure. But his bees are dying, and his income is shriveling in direct proportion to their decline.

On this day in March, Anderson sits at the dining room table in his home, a prefabricated structure in a large, well-stocked compound filled with heavy equipment and stacks of bee boxes. “I had 3,200 colonies last spring,” he says. “Now I’m at about 600 colonies, and they’re not in great shape. At the peak of the pollination season, a typical colony will have 50,000 [worker] bees. Now, we’re down to about 30,000 bees per colony.”

To show me the problem, Anderson drives to a nearby almond orchard where his sons – Jeremy, Kyle, and Mitchell – and daughter, Alyssa, manage a number of colonies in boxes tucked under the trees. The day is sunny and warm – perfect pollinating weather – and the bees are out and about. Except it doesn’t sound that busy. In a typical almond grove at the peak of bloom, the air positively vibrates with the susurrus of working bees everywhere. Here, you have to scan the tree canopy carefully to spot bees: one here, another over there. Most of the blossoms are vacant.

Anderson dons his beekeeper’s protective suit, helmet, and veil to take a closer look at the bee boxes. He fires up his smoker – a bellows-like device beekeepers use to puff smoke into colonies they are inspecting. The smoke dulls the bees’ receptors, preventing them from detecting pheromones that stimulate the hive occupants to attack an intruder.

After directing a couple of puffs to the bottom of a hive, Anderson pops off the lid and peers into a “super,” a box containing hanging frames of wax sheets where the bees build comb to brood larvae and store honey. Even to my untrained eye, the super seems deficient of bees.

“Weak,” mutters Anderson. “A really weak colony.” He points to a windrow of dead bees outside the hive. “Sick or dying bees are immediately removed [by worker bees],” he says. “You always see some dead bees outside a colony. But that’s a lot here. I’d say much more than normal. Unfortunately, that’s the new ‘normal.’ “

Moribund beehives aren’t confined to orchards in the San Joaquin Valley. Colony collapse disorder (CCD), as the phenomenon is known, has plagued honeybee populations across the developed world. The syndrome is defined by the USDA as a dead colony with neither adults nor dead bee bodies, but with a live queen and usually honey and immature bees still present. No cause has been scientifically proven.

Although colony losses directly attributable to CCD have declined, reports of honey bee colony losses are increasing. In an annual survey released in May by the Bee Informed Partnership, a consortium of universities and research laboratories, thousands of beekeepers reported losing 42 percent of their colonies in the past year. That is well above the 34 percent loss reported for the same period in 2013 and 2014, and it is the second-highest loss recorded since year-round surveys began in 2010.

A devout Seventh Day Adventist, Anderson puts great stock in scripture and in the Adventist ethos, which emphasizes a vegetarian diet and reverent stewardship of the natural world. He – and many other beekeepers in North America and Europe – are confident they’ve determined the cause of colony collapse: a new generation of pesticides known as neonicotinoids – “neonics” for short.

“We are losing huge numbers of bees where neonics are applied,” says Anderson. “And the only areas where there isn’t massive pollinator decline have little or no agriculture, like the remote parts of Montana. It is clear that neonicotinoids are driving this thing.”

Introduced in the 1990s, neonics are a class of neuroactive nicotine-analog insecticides that may be applied at the plant root, sprayed onto foliage, or used as seed coating. By the early 2000s they were in wide use in Europe, Canada, and the United States. These systemic insecticides have largely replaced organophospate and pyrethroid pesticides, which had supplanted organochlorine pesticides such as DDT and Aldrin. Chemical companies developed each group to counter the deficiencies of its predecessor. For instance, although the organochlorines themselves weren’t acutely toxic to mammals, they were highly stable, accumulating in the soil and in ecosystem food webs potentially for hundreds of years.

Enter the neonics, which act on the central nervous system of insects in ways similar to the natural insecticide nicotine. They cause paralysis that leads to death, often within a few hours. Although they do not appear to cause long-term harm to fish, mammals, or birds, they do persist in the environment and have been found as residues in many foods.

Unlike earlier families of pesticide, neonics are water soluble and enter a plant’s vascular tissue directly. This means a treated plant’s leaves, woody tissue, blooms, pollen, and nectar can become toxic to insects, and for long periods of time – good news for crops that must be defended against ravenous bugs, but devastating for bees.

“When bees forage on plants treated with neonicotinoids, they bring contaminated pollen and nectar back to the colony,” Anderson says. “With neonics, the exposure is constant, never ending.”

Usually the pesticide isn’t applied at levels high enough to kill foraging bees outright. But bees eat pollen, and over time the neonicotinoids can sicken and kill them. Worse, most of the nectar they collect is converted to honey and fed to the colony’s larvae – with potentially disastrous results.

In 2010 Bayer CropScience voluntarily changed its product labels to remove almonds from the list of uses for imidacloprid, the most widely used neonicotinoid, registered in more than 120 countries. Direct application of neonics on almond trees is now minimal. But bees – including those brought directly into the orchards at pollinating season – forage widely on surrounding weeds and wildflowers, picking up insecticide residues that accumulate in their bodies but aren’t immediately lethal.

“It can wipe out an entire colony, or it can just weaken it – slashing the number of working bees – as we’re seeing in these almond orchards,” Anderson says, fitting the lid back on the hive.

His conviction that neonics are a cause of declining colonies is shared by many other beekeepers. One longtime friend, Steve Ellis, brings his hives to the Central Valley each year from Minnesota, where Anderson, too, maintains a home. Ellis says incidences of colony collapse disorder accelerated dramatically when the application of neonicotinoids became widespread.

Neonicotinoids are now used on nearly all corn and canola crops, and about half of all soybeans. “They’re used in seed coatings and on nursery stock,” Ellis says. “It is not a coincidence that incidents of colony collapse have tracked the expansion of neonicotinoid use. They are directly correlated.”

Pesticide manufacturers insist that evidence suggests honeybee declines and incidences of colony collapse are caused by multiple factors, including mites and diseases that affect honeybees. By 2006, seven different neonicotinoid-active ingredients had been approved by federal and state regulators and were being widely marketed.

Despite data collected since then implicating neonics in colony decline, commercial beekeepers and honey producers say they got nowhere with administrative complaints to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state regulators. “Unfortunately, everybody circles the wagons when you bring up the subject of agricultural chemical usage,” Ellis says. “That’s especially the case with neonics.”

“The problem is, [big agriculture] has gone from a pest-eradication policy to a pest-prevention policy,” Anderson says. “Unfortunately, these poisons are not selective, and they’re wiping out beneficial insects as well. The threat isn’t just to beekeepers. The entire food-production system is at risk.”

So Ellis and Anderson went to court.

The two migratory beekeepers first brought suit in Minnesota, where Ellis operates a honey farm. After pesticide overspray from neighboring land killed bees in their hives, they joined a third beekeeper to sue state regulators for negligence. The case was summarily dismissed by the trial court, but in 2005 the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded. (Anderson v. State Dept. of Nat. Res., 693 N.W. 2d 181 (Minn. 2005).)

Later, when their hives in California began to fail, Ellis became lead plaintiff in a case brought in 2013 by beekeepers and public interest groups against the EPA. The complaint alleges the agency lacked proper procedural frameworks and risk assessments when it authorized expanded use (2 million pounds applied annually on about 100 million acres) of clothianidin and thiamethoxam, two potent neonicotinoids.

The plaintiffs maintain that by permitting new uses for the chemicals without affording notice in the public register or allowing for sufficient public comment, the agency is violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) (7 U.S.C. §§ 136-136y), the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. § 1531-1544), and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) (5 U.S.C. § 501-706). They seek to have the EPA vacate its registrations and conditional-use approvals of the two chemicals, and consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to insure that any agency action “is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species.” (See 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2). (Ellis v. Bradbury, No. 13-CV-1266 (N.D. Cal. filed Mar. 21, 2013).)

The EPA and defendant – intervenors Bayer CropScience, Syngenta Crop Protection, CropLife America, and Valent U.S.A. challenged the suit based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, failure to state a claim, ripeness, standing grounds, and failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Last year U.S. District Judge Maxine M. Chesney dismissed several of the plaintiffs’ claims, but granted leave to amend the complaint. She permitted claims against more than a dozen products under the Endangered Species Act to survive. (Ellis v. Bradbury, 2014 WL 1569271 (N.D. Cal.).) Plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint in May 2014.

“This is a national lawsuit on extremely serious misregistration [of chemicals], but the problem is that the legal system moves very slowly,” Ellis says. “While our case works its way through the courts, the injuries continue in the field.”

Around the same time Ellis was filed, Jeff Anderson joined a coalition of commercial beekeepers and honey producers to petition the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for review of the EPA’s registration of a new insecticide, sulfoxaflor, which is related to neonicotinoids. In 2013 the EPA approved three formulations produced by Dow AgroSciences, mitigated by reduced application rates, increased minimum application intervals, and product labels to protect pollinators. The agency acknowledged the potential risks to bees, but concluded the benefits of sulfoxaflor – including its unique mode of action and strong potential to replace older and more toxic pesticides – outweighed the risks. Petitioners allege the EPA skewed its analysis of sulfoxaflor’s risks and benefits by discounting its adverse effects on the beekeeping industry and on crops that depend on bees for pollination. (Pollinator Stewardship Council v. EPA, No. 13-72346 (9th Cir. petitioner’s opening brief filed Dec. 6, 2013).)

Greg C. Loarie is a staff attorney with Earthjustice in San Francisco and lead petitioners’ counsel in the case. “Ellis attempts to reopen the discussion on older neonics,” he explains. “Pollinator is perhaps more clear-cut, in that we contend the EPA did not follow its own guidelines when it registered sulfoxaflor under FIFRA.”

Loarie notes that the EPA typically requires acute-toxicity tests on adult bees to determine the safety of neonicotinoids. But he asserts, “Any attempts to look into sublethal effects of sulfoxaflor were halfhearted at best. And sublethal effects are really the critical issue: The bees are bringing back contaminated nectar and pollen to the colonies – they feed that to the brood, the brood dies, and the colony collapses.”

Robert G. Dreher, then an acting assistant attorney general, responded in the EPA’s answering brief that “petitioners’ argument is based on a flawed, overly restrictive view of how EPA evaluates risk to pollinators.” The agency noted, Dreher wrote, “that for migratory beekeepers, it is extremely difficult to characterize risk since free roaming bees cannot be confined and there is no way to quantify their exposure to all sources of risk.”

The petitioners in Pollinator hope to put the EPA on notice that it must evaluate all possible colony impacts – not just the effects on adult bees – before registering a pesticide. “Under FIFRA, a cost-benefit standard applies to pesticides,” Loarie says, “so you could have a risky pesticide approved if the benefits are considered substantial [as with sulfoxaflor]. We say, if you want to do that, you have to do a genuine assessment ofall the risks.”

In a third California suit, Earthjustice represents a coalition of public interest groups that allege that the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is dragging its feet on a 2009 requirement to reevaluate pollinator impacts caused by four neonicotinoids. The plaintiffs say the department is simultaneously allowing the pesticides’ expanded use, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). (Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) v. Calif. Dep’t of Pesticide Regulation, No. RG14731906 (Alameda Super. Ct. filed Jul. 8, 2014).)

“The PANNA case is a little wonky,” Loarie says. “It really boils down to a fundamental disagreement over CEQA: DPR says CEQA doesn’t apply because there is a list of issues and activities – including pesticide regulation and timber harvesting – that is exempt from a mandated environmental impact report. But it’s clear the law does demand an impact analysis of these programs equivalent in scope to a formal EIR. DPR, however, is translating this list as a free ride – it’s claiming no meaningful review is required.”

Indeed, the DPR and manufacturers cite a recent appellate opinion stating, “The Legislature found certification warranted, in part, because the ‘preparation of environmental impact reports and negative declarations for pesticide permits would be an unreasonable and expensive burden on California agriculture and health protection agencies.’ ” (Californians for Alternatives to Toxics v. Calif. Dept. of Pesticide Regulation, 136 Cal. App. 4th 1049, 1059 (2006) (citing Cal. Code Regs., tit. 3, § 6100, sub. (a)(6).)

Although the DPR does conduct reevaluations of previously approved pesticides, Loarie contends the reviews are perfunctory and typically have no moderating effect on pesticide use. “Even though these [four] neonicotinoids are still being reevaluated, they’re still being applied because use can continue during the review process,” Loarie says. “[R]eevaluation is a black hole for pesticides – it can take years.”

In April, Judge George C. Hernandez Jr. issued a tentative ruling directing the DPR to set aside and vacate registration of two neonicotinoids – Venom and Dinotefuran 20SG – pending the agency’s reevaluation. Noting that the DPR hadn’t amended its regulatory certification program in 35 years, Hernandez held that the law requires the department to apply current CEQA analysis in deciding whether to register pesticides. He concluded, “By skipping the alternatives analysis and jumping straight to the implied finding that for economic reasons farmers need access to new compounds to address insect resistance management, the document provided inadequate public disclosure.” (Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) v. California Dep’t of Pesticide Regulation, No. RG14731906 (Alameda Super. Ct. order Apr. 10, 2015).)

Last year the Legislature passed AB 1789, which requires the DPR to complete its reevaluation of neonicotinoids by 2018, and to institute new review practices by 2020. (See Cal. Food and Agric. Code § 12838.) But Loarie isn’t mollified, noting that the statute permits the agency to extend that deadline if it needs more time. Even though DPR admits there may be a problem with neonics, he says, “it allows expanded use during the reevaluation period. That’s only incremental expansion, but the results are devastating.”

When oral argument in Pollinator was presented to a Ninth Circuit panel in April, Loarie’s concerns about neonicotinoids’ toxicity seemed to carry weight. The judges alluded to “significant limitations” in the EPA’s evaluation of toxicity studies prior to its approval of sulfoxaflor.

Judge N. Randy Smith said the agency seemed to be applying a flexible set of standards. “[The EPA studies] don’t meet OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] guidelines, they don’t test the effect of the poison on brood development, [or] test long-term colony health,” Smith said. “And yet you are going to rely on [the studies]? That’s my problem.”

EPA attorney John T. Do responded that the agency’s mitigation measures for sulfoxaflor were “not necessarily reliant” on studies that tested its effects on hive health.

Judge Mary M. Schroeder quickly countered, “They’re not reliant on anything.”

“They’re reliant on common sense,” Do replied, eliciting smiles from the judges.

In response to requests for comment on the federal neonics litigation, the Department of Justice’s Environmental Defense Section referred to their court briefs. But in regard to the PANNA case, California Department of Pesticide Regulation spokesperson Charlotte Fadipe says the correlation between neonicotinoids and colony collapse disorder is not as clear-cut as the plaintiffs claim.

“DPR is at the forefront of examining the role [neonicotinoids] play and how to mitigate for them,” Fadipe says. “But the truth is, we’re facing a multifaceted agricultural problem.”

Fadipe cited research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicating that a parasite known as the Varroa mite is a primary culprit in U.S. incidents of colony collapse disorder. She also notes that research in Australia, where neonicotinoids are used, suggests malnutrition may play a major role in degrading the health of bee colonies.

Still, Fadipe says, DPR is considering all the possible impacts of neonicotinoids, including sublethal effects on hives. And she distinguishes between the department’s “conditional registration” status for pesticides and its reevaluation process.

Conditional registration means that DPR has received enough data to determine that no significant adverse effects to humans or the environment are expected, but additional data is still required. Reevaluation, Fadipe says, occurs when there is some indication that the pesticide “may have caused or is likely to cause an adverse effect to people or the environment.” The process “allows DPR to require [pesticide] companies to conduct tests and submit additional data.” Reevaluation of the four pesticides targeted in the PANNA case, for example, has been underway since 2009.

Fadipe says DPR is being thorough – not dilatory. “We are always worried if we are doing enough,” she says. “The science is getting sharper. We’re finding things we would have missed 20 years ago – and that sometimes leads to more restrictions than some people care to see.”

The manufacturers of neonicotinoids maintain that the entire class of pesticides has been unjustly demonized. Jean-Charles Bocquet is the director general of the European Crop Protection Association, a Brussels-based trade group for EU producers of agricultural chemicals. (BASF, Bayer CropScience, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto Europe, and DuPont de Nemeurs are members.)

Bocquet contends opponents of neonics oversimplify a complex problem. “I’ve been in this business since the late 1970s, and beekeepers get nervous every time there’s a new pesticide,” he says.

“In the early 1980s, pyrethroids were accused of causing acute mortality in bee colonies, so we did a lot of research on this, including on over-wintering populations.” He says studies determined that the Varroa mite had been present in the hives with the highest mortality, and that a bacterial disease, Nosema, also played a role. He acknowledges that pesticides also are an area of concern, but denies they are the primary cause of colony collapse disorder. “It’s a multifaceted issue, and we’re working on all [fronts],” he says.

The industry’s position enjoys some support in academia. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland who directs its Honey Bee Lab, doubts that neonicotinoids alone account for the widespread and accelerating diminution of honeybees.

“On the whole,” vanEngelsdorp says, “my data suggests they are not a major driver. I think they’re a contributing factor, but not the sole or major factor.”

The Varroa mite, vanEngelsdorp says, probably is a bigger problem. Beekeepers have known about and managed the mites for decades, he says, “But the populations are different now, and the methods of controls typically used don’t work as well as they did 30 or 40 years ago.”

Commercial beekeepers and honey producers disparage that theory. “We’ve been controlling for the Varroa mite very successfully for a very long time,” Ellis says. “Now we’re supposed to believe that all the beekeepers in the nation suddenly forgot how to control for mites? And that it was just a coincidence that we started losing colonies just as neonics went into heavy use? It’s ridiculous.”

Furthermore, Ellis says, anecdotal evidence that neonicotinoids are the real culprit is coming from Europe, where the European Commission (EC) restricted the use of three neonics in May 2013 for a two-year period (Regulation (EU) No. 485/2013). Bayer CropScience and Syngenta later sued to overturn the proscription.

Ellis believes the EC ban has been effective. “We’re seeing upticks in pollinator populations in Italy, Slovenia, France, and Germany [where bans have been in place for longer],” he says. This shows “that the environment can detoxify once neonic applications are stopped, and that pollinators will recover.”

In April, the European Academies Science Advisory Council released a study linking the use of neonicotinoids to declining ecosystem health, including harm to pollinators. The report could influence the upcoming review of the European Commission’s neonics ban.

In the United States, President Obama created an interagency Pollinator Health Task Force last year, co-chaired by the EPA and the Department of Agriculture. In April, the EPA placed a moratorium on approval of any new use permits for neonicotinoids.

Anderson was not impressed. “In the last year, EPA has approved registration for two new neonics, and expanded uses of these pesticides to additional blooming crops,” he told PANNA. “Allowing increased toxic exposure to my bees and then announcing a moratorium? Very disingenuous.”

In May, Obama’s task force issued a National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and other Pollinators. It announced accelerated EPA review of neonics, to be completed by 2018. And it acknowledged the particular risk pesticides pose to contracted pollination services, proposing “to prohibit the foliar application of acutely toxic products during bloom for sites with bees on-site under contract, unless the application is made in accordance with a government-declared public health response.”

Earthjustice attorney Loarie lives in Sonoma County, where the EC-banned neonic imidacloprid, among other pesticides, is applied in the grape vineyards through drip irrigation systems. “So it affects everything in the vineyard, not just the vines. In the early spring, the vineyards are typically full of wild mustard – the whole county is blazing with bright yellow flowers,” he says. “And not long ago, they were always full of bees and other pollinating insects. Now they’re just empty and quiet.”

Back in Oakdale, 22-year-old Alyssa Anderson – who has always helped her dad out with the hives – contemplates her future. Not too long ago, she planned to go into the business full time.

“My family has been keeping bees for 75 years, and I always figured I’d be part of that,” she says. “But there’s just no security in it now. What’s happening to the bees is really tragic, and not just for us. People don’t realize that one-third of their food supply depends on bees. Even the farmers are in denial. It’s going to be a rude awakening for everybody when they finally understand the stakes.”

 [Read the original article via]

Glen Martin is a contributing environmental writer based in Santa Rosa.

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READ: Swarm-less Spring and Summer?

By HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki


It is the natural reproductive urge of honey bees to build up numbers in the Spring in order to swarm and establish new colonies. This activity has other benefits for bees besides the increasing of numbers—it helps bees cleanse their colonies of carpetbagging diseases and pests by initiating a break in the brood rearing cycle. Many pathogens depend on a continuous occupancy of the brood nest and young bees, so when the swarm leaves the hive and takes up to two weeks to find a suitable cavity, draw comb, and the queen commences egg laying, the pathogens drop away.

But, as some of you may have noticed, there seems to have been a dearth of swarms this year. Many  hopeful newbees have put out swarm boxes, watching carefully for a swarm to move in, but it has sat empty. My normal connections with a bee swarm removal service that delivers the boxed swarms after a client call, have been dismal. Both Wendy and Sam, the contacts I work with to re-home these boxed swarms, have had no calls in weeks from the public in the South Bay. My own network with the city of Manhattan Beach and the listing with the Agriculture Department have yielded very few calls. Most of the swarms I am getting I am hiving myself rather than listing them for adoption.I have asked other beeks about their impression of swarming this year. Rob Stone with Orange County Beekeepers Club says not much swarming activity is being seen down South. Scott Davis in Palos Verdes has had half the number of swarm calls he would expect and thinks the issue is the prolonged drought.

So for the time being, the ongoing drought is affecting the forage sources of the bees such that fewer have the numbers to swarm successfully, are making less honey, and finding less pollen for raising brood.

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