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How LA homes lost their hives

via Mark Vallianatos
historyofbeesinamerica
The decision by the Los Angeles City Council to consider legalizing bee-keeping on single family properties raises the question: why were backyard bees banned in the first place? While researching some zoning and building code changes, I came across a council file from the 1940s that contained dueling petitions on beekeeping in the west San Fernando Valley. This sparked my interest in how Los Angeles has regulated bees over the years, especially through the zoning code. Zoning is a tool that local jurisdictions utilize to regulate land use. The zoning of residential properties, and what agricultural uses were allowed on single family homes, changed as Los Angeles transformed from the nation’s leading farming region to a suburban and industrial powerhouse.  I’ve tracked down a partial history of the regulation of bee-keeping in the city of LA.  These controls on (and controversies about) bees represent competing visions of the city and how we should live in it. I hope reflecting on when and why LA homes “lost their hives” can provide context that will be useful as the City re-legalizes urban bee-keeping.

J.P. McIntyre and his bees, circa 1880 | California Historical Society

Bee-keeping grew alongside Agriculture in Southern California and the benefits of bees to farmers and the economy were widely recognized.  The keeping of bees was, however, banned within the city limits of Los Angeles on June 10th 1879. A decade later, in 1889, when the city adopted its first home-rule city charter, the power to restrict bees was enshrined in a list of nuisances. The Charter authorized Los Angeles “to suppress and prohibit … the keeping of bees within the city limits, and any and all obnoxious, offensive, immoral, indecent or disreputable places of business or practice.”  (Charter of the City of Los Angeles as Adopted, January 1889).
Was bee-keeping really considered to be that bad? Some of the other activities on the charter’s list of problematic businesses, like bawdy-houses and gambling dens, were regulated out of moral concerns. Others, such as laundries and cattle yards, were considered to be types of businesses that should be limited to certain areas because of the risks (fire, odors, etc) associated with their operations. Bee-keeping fell into this latter type of activity. I was surprised to see, in news accounts from the late 19th century, that the biggest perceived threat from bee hives wasn’t people getting stung by bees. It was the belief that bees threatened the fruit crop fruit by eating and stinging pieces of fruit. Proponents of banning bee-keeping in LA also cited the danger posed to horses by swarms of bees.

This law didn’t stop all bee-keeping in residential areas. As the City grew by annexing surrounding land, exceptions to the bee ordinance were made for newly added districts that were primarily agricultural. In 1915,  the San Fernando Valley was exempted from the bee-keeping ban when it was annexed to LA. The ban itself didn’t seem to be widely enforced in parts of the city where it did apply.  A 1917 Los Angeles Times article on the benefits of back-yard bee-keeping, for example, dismissed the law against bees as “an ancient and still-unrepealed city ordinance.” (‘Back-Yard Bee Keeping Cuts Living Cost Here.’ Los Angeles Times, Jan 28, 1917.)

The legality of the ‘ancient’ ordinance was eventually tested at the California Supreme Court. In 1936, Mrs. Edna Ellis was accused of violating the LA city ordinance by keeping five hives of bees at a residential property on the 4000 block of Sequoia St. The Deputy City Attorney prosecuting the case called bees “a nuisance” and “vicious.” “They are stinging people all over the neighborhood,” he claimed. “Children go outside and get stung. They can’t even pick flowers.” In her defense, Mrs. Ellis told the court: “I love bees. To me, they’re pets… Like cats and dogs to some people. My father kept bees before me and I have been keeping them myself for twenty-five years.” (‘Court Hears Bee Defense: Woman Accused of Keeping Apiary in Violation of City Ordinance.’ Los Angeles Times. June 27, 1936.) Ellis was convicted and appealed the decision, arguing that the ban was unconstitutional. The California Supreme Court accepted her statements about “the benefits to the residents in her community resulting from the cross-pollination of the fruit blossoms and flowers in addition to the commercial value of the bees” but still found that there is “a reasonable basis for the exercise of the police power in prohibiting beekeeping within the city limits,” upholding the law and Ellis’ conviction.  (In re Ellis, 11 cal.2d 571, 1938.)

As World War II drew to a close, LA planners tried to balance the San Fernando’s Valley’s agricultural heritage with pent-up demand for space for housing and industry. It was on this shifting terrain that arguments about bees started to define what types of residential properties were suitable for keeping hives. In April 1945, 13 residents of Canoga Park sent a petition to the Los Angeles City Council requesting a law “prohibiting stands of bees in the west end of the San Fernando Valley. Bees in this locality are not only a nuisance and danger, but they cause a great deal of damage to crops such as peaches, grapes and others. .. As they ripen, the bees sting the fruit and cause them to rot. It is dangerous to try to gather fruit with so many bees around. At present, people who live in the city, but who own vacant acres, are putting in bees just to annoy those of us who really make our homes out here.” (Council File 19744, April 23, 1945).

Los Angeles City staff and the Council’s Public Health and Welfare Committee considered this request. They concluded that it was unreasonable to outlaw bee keeping in agricultural parts of the valley and that “expert testimony does not support the contention that bees really damage fruit.”  (May 5, 1945 letter from Chas Senn, Director of Sanitation to George M. Uhl, MD, Health Officer). In early April, 1946, the City Council, did direct the City Attorney to draft an ordinance to prohibit keeping bees in congested parts of the San Fernando Valley. This move prompted another group of Canoga Park residents to send a competing petition to Council: “we the undersigned residents of said district, ask that the keeping of bees in the west San Fernando Valley should not be outlawed for the following reasons: Said district is sparsely settled and is mostly devoted to agriculture and bees do not constitute a nuisance. The bees render a great service to agriculture, trees and flowers by pollination, which fact is well known and the plaintiffs could not suggest a better substitute. However, there are also wild bees, which could not be outlawed. It is well know that bees do not spoil fruit. First fruit must be pecked by birds before a bee could feed on it.  We the undersigned are convinced that the bees are harmless and useful and therefore we ask that no ordinance against keeping bees should be enacted.” (Council File 23159, April 23, 1946.)

The LA City Council soon passed an ordinance, effective June 1, 1946, that split the difference between the anti-bee and pro-bee petitions. The City’s anti-beekeeping law was amended to forbid the keeping of bees on any premises within 300 feet of another dwelling or within 100 feet of an exterior boundary. This would allow bees to be kept at a single family house only if it had a huge lot. Agricultural zones and the Residential Agriculture zone were exempted, allowing bee-keeping to continue in parts of the Valley with rural zoning.

By shifting the law from a blanket prohibition on bee-keeping (with an exception for the San Fernando Valley) to a zoning-based system, planners could allow different animal and agriculture-related uses in different residential zones. In 1950, for example, a new Residential Suburban zone was created to be a hybrid between the R1 and RA zones. Residents of RA or RS zoned homes could raise “poultry, fowl, bees, rabbits, chinchillas, fish, or frogs;” but if you lived in a house zoned R1 (the most common single family zone) you were limited to poultry, rabbits and chinchillas, plus goats, horses and cows if your lot was at least 20,000 square feet. (Ordinance 97359, 1950).

At some point between 1950 and 1980, bee-keeping was eliminated as a legal use in the RA and RS zones. I haven’t yet run across the ordinance that made this change. Today, bee-keeping is only allowed in the City of Los Angeles in agricultural zone and in most manufacturing zones. Hopefully this will change soon, and hives of bees, governed by sensible regulations, will be permitted in backyards throughout the City for the first time in 135 years.


Mark Vallianatos works and teaches at Occidental College and is on the Zoning Advisory Committee for the City’s re:code LA process to revise Los Angeles’ zoning code. Mark can be reached at mvalli@oxy.edu 


LEGALIZE URBAN BEEKEEPING IN LOS ANGELES!!

Sign the petition | Email a letter of support to City Council Council File: 12-0785 Beekeeping

Legalize Urban Beekeeping
Read full story · Posted in News, Yay Bees

KCET: How Bees Came Buzzing to Los Angeles

By Jaime Henderson

On February 12, 2014 a group of Los Angeles backyard beekeepers gathered together to urge the Los Angeles City Council to consider making the practice of beekeeping in Los Angeles residential zones legal. These guerilla beekeepers outlined their reasons for cultivating bees and their hives, describing their commitment to locavore living and urban farming and their personal belief in the health benefits of locally derived honey. On a larger scale, they pointed out, their work prevents colony collapse disorder, a significant problem in which pollinating honeybees desert their hives, leaving at risk important agricultural crops such as almonds, avocados and blueberries. The beekeepers argue that the urban environment’s diverse vegetation and lack of agricultural pesticides discourage such abandonment of hives. Fortunately the city council agreed to review the laws against backyard beekeeping.

Perhaps the city council members should consider that beekeeping is not new to Los Angeles and has, in fact, long been a part of the county’s agricultural history.

J.P. McIntyre and his bees, circa 1880 | Courtesy California Historical Society

J.P. McIntyre and his bees, circa 1880 | Courtesy California Historical Society

Like many of the early beekeepers themselves, bees made their way to California from the Eastern United States by ship — migration to the Western states by land was made nearly impossible by the arid mid-western plains. Typically setting off from New York, the bees and their hives made their way through the hot and humid Isthmus of Panama, landing in San Francisco wharfs, crowded and dazed upon disembarking the steamer, much like their human shipmates. The July 1, 1852 issue of the Daily Alta California reported the first importation of bees to California by Mr. W.A. Buckley and Lady of Newburgh, New York. This eccentric sounding couple arrived in San Francisco on June 28 on the steamship New Orleans, carrying the one last remaining beehive of the three they had in their possession when they left New York. Although the Daily Alta reported the hive to have arrived “with its industrious inmates in healthy working condition,” Lee H. Watkins, in his 1968 article “California’s First Honey Bees,” refutes this notion. Watkins notes that because of the bees’ long term confinement, Buckley’s admittance that he knew very little of caring for bees, and Watkins’ inability to unearth any record of W.A. Buckley or his last remaining hive, make it highly unlikely Buckley’s bees were as the Daily Alta described.

Most histories on beekeeping in California credit Christopher A. Shelton as being the first to import healthy, living hives, in 1853. After arriving by ship in San Francisco, Shelton settled in Santa Clara County with his hives — these colonies being the earliest California ancestors of the honeybee. While one of Shelton’s wayward bees might have made its way southward from Santa Clara County to Los Angeles County, historical records indicate that it is O.W. Childs who first brought a beehive into the Southland on September 4, 1854. Childs purchased his hive in San Francisco for $150, from a ship carrying many hives that had originated in New York. It is unknown where Childs settled in Los Angeles County with his hive, although the Los Angeles County foothills became a popular spot for bee ranches, or apiaries.

A Bee Ranch - San Antonio Canon, Los Angeles County, 1902 | Courtesy California Historical Society

A Bee Ranch – San Antonio Canon, Los Angeles County, 1902 | Courtesy California Historical Society

According to Thompson and West’s “History of Los Angeles County, California,” by 1860 many county residents were beekeeping, with one particular party in the county harvesting twenty-five colonies, and “several others in the same business, all doing well.” Cary McWilliams, in “Southern California: an Island on the Land,” noted that “bee-ranching became a type of bonanza farming by 1870. On a foothill homestead, the bee rancher would start with a swarm of 100 stands in October, quickly increase the swarm to 400 stands, and ship 40,000 pounds of the finest comb-honey by July.”

Most honey was shipped to San Francisco for sale, where it sold for a good profit. W. McPherson recorded that San Francisco buyers of “Los Angeles Mountain Honey” were told that “it is the purest and most delicate-flavored honey that ever comes to this market, and commands the highest price.” In fact, according to “The Surveyor General’s Report for 1871,” Los Angeles County is recorded as the greatest producer of honey of the five honey-producing Southern California counties, including Kern, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Santa Barbara, bringing in 168,000 pounds of honey at a net worth of $11,760. According to McPherson, “there [was] no easier way to make money than that of ‘Bee-Ranching,’ in Los Angeles County.”

Miller Box Manufacturing Company, Bee Keepers' Supplies, 1919 | Courtesy California Historical Society

Miller Box Manufacturing Company, Bee Keepers’ Supplies, 1919 | Courtesy California Historical Society

The growing apiary industry created the need for manufacturers of beekeeping supplies. Miller Box Manufacturing Company, located right next to the Los Angeles River at 201-233 North Avenue 18 at Pasadena Avenue, offered their customers hives, honey extractors, swarm catchers, smokers and veils for both lady and gentlemen apiarists.

Bee Keepers' Short Course, Riverside, Dec. 1919 | Courtesy California Historical Society

Bee Keepers’ Short Course, Riverside, Dec. 1919 | Courtesy California Historical Society

The popularity of beekeeping continued to grow in Los Angeles County and surrounding counties. At its first meeting in El Monte on August 18, 1873, the nine members of the Bee Keepers Association of Los Angeles gathered to adopt the organization’s constitution and by-laws. By 1880 the organization had, at its peak, 56 members. The organization continues today as the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association, promoting educational outreach on all things bee related, and supporting bee friendly legislation.

Beekeeping has enjoyed a long history in Los Angeles County. While initially practiced primarily for profit, it has of late grown into an environmental choice, reflecting the beekeepers’ belief in the health benefits of local honey and an advocacy of local farming practices and the proliferation healthy bees and their colonies.
Resources

McPherson, W. Homes in Los Angeles city and county. Los Angeles: Mirror Book and Job Printing Establishment, 1873.

McWilliams, Carey. Southern California: an island on the land, 9th edition. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 1980.

Reproduction of Thompson and West’s History of Los Angeles County, California, 1880. Berkeley: Howell-North, 1959.

Watkins, Lee H. California’s first honey bees. American Bee Journal, Vol. 108 (5): 190-191.

[view the original article on KCET.org]

Read full story · Posted in News

CBS NEWS: Urban beekeeping flourishes: Inside the L.A. push to legalize backyard hives

Bee colonies are vital to our food supply, but they have been dying off for nearly a decade. CBS News’ Ben Tracy reports on the rise of urban beekeeping, and the push in Los Angeles for a “pro-bee” ordinance to officially allow beekeeping.

CBS This Morning

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz, News

LA TIMES: “We need bees. We want more bees. So legalize beekeeping, L.A.”

LAtimes2013

Rob McFarland holds a beehive at a Culver City residence in 2012. He and his wife have led an effort to make beekeeping legal in LA.

We need bees. We want more bees. So legalize beekeeping, L.A.
Other cities have done it without major problems.

By The Times editorial board—December 27, 2013 

Los Angeles is honeybee heaven. The warm Southern California climate and long growing seasons provide year-round food for bees. The city’s trees, flowers and flora are largely free of pesticides. It’s the perfect place for backyard beekeeping — except that beekeeping is not legal here.

That could soon change. A group of bee advocates and neighborhood councils has been lobbying the City Council to expressly allow beekeeping on single-family residential lots. Current law permits it only in areas zoned for agriculture. Next month, the City Council will decide whether to move forward with legalized beekeeping.

There’s a good reason to allow it. Commercially raised bees used to pollinate crops are disappearing in big numbers because of what’s known as colony collapse disorder, but nobody knows what’s causing the problem. Urban honeybees may end up replenishing the diminishing supply, or providing disease-resistant genes that can be introduced in the commercial bee lines.

Los Angeles should follow the lead of other major cities and draft rules that allow residents to keep bees, while providing some common-sense protections for neighbors. There’s already an established backyard beekeeping community in Los Angeles despite the fact that it is not legal. The growing urban agriculture movement has spurred more interest in homegrown hives (in part because the bees are needed to pollinate the new urban crops) and more confusion over what is and isn’t allowed.

New York City allowed illicit apiarists to come out of the shadows in 2010, and since then hobbyists have established hives on building roofs and in backyards. The city set basic rules: Colonies must be in well-maintained, movable frame hives with a constant water source, in a location that doesn’t pose a nuisance. Beekeepers file a one-page hive registration form with the city health department each year.

Santa Monica permitted beekeeping in 2011 with similar requirements. Residents are allowed two hives per backyard, and the hives must be at least five feet from the property lines. Apiarists who don’t follow the rules or who let their hives become a nuisance to neighbors face fines or misdemeanor charges.

Both cities said they’ve had no major problems; beekeepers have largely followed the rules or moved their hives in response to complaints. And city officials said there’s been a benefit: a larger network of amateur beekeepers to call upon to remove swarms rather than exterminate them.

There will understandably be some concern and fear from neighbors — a swarm of feral honeybees can look like something out of a horror movie. Beekeeping experts say there are already lots of naturally occurring, unmanaged hives in the region. A managed hive in which bees have adequate food and space is less likely to produce a swarm.

We need bees. We want more bees. It’s time to legalize beekeeping.

[view original article via latimes.com]

Read full story · Posted in News

City Council Looks into Urban Beekeeping Ordinance

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee directed city staff to study the idea and report back in two months.
[Posted by Alexander Nguyen on Patch.com]

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

A City Council committee Tuesday took the first steps toward allowing residents to keep beehives in their yards for the production of honey and wax and to pollinate their gardens.

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee directed city staff to report back in two months on the best ways to allow “beekeeping” activity in single-family residential areas.

Council members who last year proposed overturning the city’s prohibition on beekeeping in those areas said promoting the practice will “foster a healthier bee population.”

The bee population has been reported to be “in steep decline,” prompting concerns that the local economy and the state’s agricultural industry would be negatively affected, according to a related motion introduced Tuesday by Councilman Jose Huizar.

His motion calls for city staff to come up with “humane and non-lethal” ways to relocate or remove unwanted bee hives to serve as alternatives to existing methods used by government agencies, “given the usefulness of bees to California’s agricultural industry and the growing popularity of urban beekeeping.” — City News Service

[view original post via Patch.com]

Read full story · Posted in News, Yay Bees

SAVE THE DATE: 12/10 @ 2:30pm – LA City PLUM Committee BEE VOTE!!

RSVP: Meetup | Facebook
Tuesday, December 10, 2:30PM
@ City Hall (3rd Floor – Public Works Board Meeting Room)
Please come out and show your support for urban beekeeping in Los Angeles!
And if you haven’t done so already, please sign our petition and send a quick email of support!!

Sanctuary Group Jump 2013

Read full story · Posted in News, Yay Bees

List of Foods We Will Lose if We Don’t Save the Bees

By: Christina Sarich, Natural Society.

800px-Bee-apis-300x200

Many pesticides have been found to cause grave danger to our bees, and with the recent colony collapses in Oregonit’s time to take a hard look at what we would be missing without bee pollination.

In just the last ten years, over 40% of the bee colonies in the US have suffered Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Bees either become so disoriented they can’t find their way back to their hives and die away from home, or fly back poison-drunk and die at the foot of their queen. There are many arguments as to what is causing CCD, but the most logical and likely culprit is the increased usage of pesticides by the likes of Monsanto and others.

A study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has labeled one pesticide, called clothianidin, as completely unacceptable for use, and banned it from use entirely. Meanwhile, the U.S. uses the same pesticide on more than a third of its crops – nearly 143 million acres. Two more pesticides linked to bee death are imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam. These are also used extensively in the US, while elsewhere, they have been taken out of circulation.

Recently, the FDA also seized Terrence Ingram’s bees, a naturalist who had been studying bees for over 30 years, and had a  colony that was resistant to Monsanto’s Round Up. Ingram’s prized hives, along with their queens, were destroyed by the FDA, and Ingram was given no warning that his bees would be demolished.

List of Crop Plants Pollinated by Bees

While we don’t need bees to pollinate every single crop, here is just a brief list of some of the foods we would lose if all our bees continue to perish:

  • Apples
  • Mangos
  • Rambutan
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Plums
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Guava
  • Rose Hips
  • Pomegranites
  • Pears
  • Black and Red Currants
  • Alfalfa
  • Okra
  • Strawberries
  • Onions
  • Cashews
  • Cactus
  • Prickly Pear
  • Apricots
  • Allspice
  • Avocados
  • Passion Fruit
  • Lima Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Adzuki Beans
  • Green Beans
  • Orchid Plants
  • Custard Apples
  • Cherries
  • Celery
  • Coffee
  • Walnut
  • Cotton
  • Lychee
  • Flax
  • Acerola – used in Vitamin C supplements
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Goa beans
  • Lemons
  • Buckwheat
  • Figs
  • Fennel
  • Limes
  • Quince
  • Carrots
  • Persimmons
  • Palm Oil
  • Loquat
  • Durian
  • Cucumber
  • Hazelnut
  • Cantaloupe
  • Tangelos
  • Coriander
  • Caraway
  • Chestnut
  • Watermelon
  • Star Apples
  • Coconut
  • Tangerines
  • Boysenberries
  • Starfruit
  • Brazil Nuts
  •  Beets
  • Mustard Seed
  • Rapeseed
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Bok Choy (Chinese Cabbage)
  • Turnips
  • Congo Beans
  • Sword beans
  • Chili peppers, red peppers, bell peppers, green peppers
  • Papaya
  • Safflower
  • Sesame
  • Eggplant
  • Raspberries
  • Elderberries
  • Blackberries
  • Clover
  • Tamarind
  • Cocoa
  • Black Eyed Peas
  • Vanilla
  • Cranberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Grapes

If one of your favorites is on this list, you should consider becoming a bee activist.

[read original post via realnews24.com]

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The Trouble with Beekeeping in the Anthropocene

by Bryan Walsh via science.time.com

The beepocalypse is on the cover of TIME, but it looks like managed honeybees will still pull through. Wild bees—and wild species in general—won’t be so lucky in a human-dominated planet.

I’ve written this week’s cover story for the magazine, on the growing threat to honeybees. You can read it (with a subscription) over here. The short version: beginning nearly a decade ago, honeybees started dying off at unusually and mysteriously high rates—this past winter, nearly one-third of U.S. honeybee colonies died or disappeared. At first this appeared due to something called colony collapse disorder (CCD); hives would be abandoned without warning, with bees seemingly leaving honey and intact wax behind. The apocalyptic nature of CCD—some people really thought the disappearance of the bees indicated that the Rapture was nigh—grabbed the public’s attention. More recently, beekeepers have been seeing fewer cases of CCD proper, but honeybees keep dying and bees keep collapsing. That’s bad for our food system—bees add at least $15 billion in crop value through pollination in the U.S. alone, and if colony losses keep up, those pollination demands may not be met and valuable crops like almonds could wither.

More than the bottom line for grocery stores, though, the honeybee’s plight alarms us because a species that we have tended and depended on for thousands of years is dying—and we don’t really know why. Tom Theobald, a beekeeper and blogger who has raised the alarm about CCD, put that fear this way: “The bees are just the beginning.”

But while we don’t now we exactly what causes CCD or why honeybees are dying in larger numbers, we do know the suspects: pesticides, including the newer class of neonicotinoids that seem to affect bees even at very low levels; biological threats like the vampiric Varroa mite; and the lack of nutrition thanks to monocultures of commodity crops like wheat and corn, which offer honeybees little in the way of the pollen they need to survive. Most likely, bee deaths are due to a mix of all of those menaces acting together—pesticides and lack of food might weaken honeybees, and pests like Varroa could finish them off, spreading diseases the bees don’t have the strength to resist. Unfortunately, that means there’s no simple way to save the honeybees either. Simply banning, say, neonicotinoids might take some of the pressure off honeybees, but most scientists agree it wouldn’t solve the problem. (And getting rid of neonicotinoids would have unpredictable consequences for agriculture—the pesticides were adopted in part because they are considered safer for mammals, including human beings.) Honeybees are suffering because we’ve created a world that is increasingly inhospitable to them.

Still, for all the alarm, honeybees are likely to pull through. As I point out in the magazine piece, beekeepers have mostly managed to replace lost colonies, though at a cost high enough that some long-time beekeepers are getting out of the business altogether. Beekeepers are buying new queens and splitting their hives, which cuts into productivity and honey production, but keeps their colony numbers high enough to so far meet pollination demands. They’re adding supplemental feed—often sugar or corn syrup—to compensate for the lack of wild forage. The scientific and agricultural community is engaged—see Monsanto’s recent honeybee summit, and the company’s work on a genetic weapon against the Varroa mite. Randy Oliver, a beekeeper and independent researcher, told me that he could see honeybees becoming a feedlot animal like pigs or chickens, bred and kept for one purpose and having their food brought to them, rather than foraging in the semi-wild way they live now. That sounds alarming—and it’s not something anyone in the beekeeping industry would like to see—but it’s also important to remember that honeybees themselves aren’t exactly natural, especially in North America, where they were imported by European settlers in the 17th century. As Hannah Nordhaus, the author of the great book A Beekeeper’s Lamenthas written, honeybees have always been much more dependent on human beings than the other way around.

(MORE: Behind the Bee’s Knees: The Origins of Nine Bee-Inspired Sayings)

The reality is that honeybees are very useful to human beings, and species that are very useful to us—think domesticated animals and pets—tend to do OK in the increasingly human-dominated world we call the Anthropocene. But other wild species aren’t so lucky—and that includes the thousands of species of wild bees and other non-domesticated pollinators. Bumblebees have experienced recent and rapid population loss in the U.S., punctuated by a mass pesticide poisoning in Oregon this past June that led to the deaths of some 50,000 bumblebees. A 2006 report by the National Academies of Science concluded that the populations of many other wild pollinators—especially wild bees—was trending “demonstrably downward.” The threats are much the same ones faced by managed honeybees: pesticides, lack of wild forage, parasites and disease. The difference is that there are thousands of human beings who make it their business to care for and prop up the populations of honeybees. No one is doing the same thing for wild bees. The supposed beepocalypse is on the cover of TIME magazine, but “you don’t hear about the decline of hundreds of species of wild bees,” says Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

That’s meant almost literally—we don’t hear them anymore. The plight of the bees illustrates our outsized influence on the this planet as we reshape it—consciously and not—to meet our immediate needs. But just because we have this power doesn’t mean we fully understand it, or our impact on our own world. We are a species that increasingly has omnipotence without omniscience. That’s a dangerous combination for the animals and plants that share this planet with us.  And eventually, it will be dangerous for us, too.

[Read original post via science.time.com]

Read full story · Posted in News

Wanna Save Bees? Kill Your Front Lawn

Save the bees. (Photo: Philippe Huguen)

Save the bees. (Photo: Philippe Huguen)

In Kentucky, Project Pollinator is replacing grass with native flowers—and the early results for bees have been very promising.

The prairies, sloughs and forests of the great North American continent are home to a dazzling array of flowering plants that nourish pollinators from bees to butterflies and hummingbirds (like a green beauty, probably a ruby-throated hummingbird, I saw feeding from a purple coneflower this weekend in my relative’s otherwise grass-dominated backyard in Indianapolis).

But in case you hadn’t noticed, humans have the unfortunate habit of replacing these environs with crop fields and lawns. Perfect, manicured, American lawns.

Both cornfields and lawns are examples of monocultures, swaths of land made up of identical species that provide little food and habitat for native pollinators. They are, in a way, wastelands for pollinators, as pointed out in a story at Scientific American.

These beds of ubiquitous green blades, especially when sprayed with herbicides, offer virtually nothing to bees and other creatures on the hunt for food. Even when grasses are allowed to flower—which isn’t often, since unruly lawns are frowned upon and can decrease property values—most grasses are wind-pollinated and don’t need these animals to carry on their sessile lives.

However, many people are beginning to question the wisdom of the all-encompassing green lawn, and turf is increasingly being replaced by flowering native plants to help pollinators and for aesthetic value. (They also require less maintenance.)

One initiative, called Project Pollinator, is replacing grass with native flowers in Kentucky. Emily Dobbs, a graduate student at the University of Kentucky, and colleagues have planted swaths of indigenous blooms at five golf courses in the state. The project, in its second year, is already having an impact, Dobbs said.

When they began the surveys on turf-dominated ground, the researchers mostly came across a single species of honeybee, besides bumblebees and sweat bees. But now, after introducing eight to 16 native species, Dobbs has found about eight bumblebee species, two dozen species of small solitary species like miner and diggers bees, and butterflies, she said. In the fall they will finalize their recommendation as to what mixture of native plants brings in the most indigenous insects.

“We’ve seen much more diversity on samples we’ve taken from the Operation Pollinator plot than in surveys of turf,” Dobbs added.

Thanks to the project, the Marriot, which owns many golf courses, has decided to place native flowers on half of its East Coast courses, according to Scientific American.

For people who want to replace their grass lawns with native plants, “two of the most useful online resources are the websites of The Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization devoted to the conservation of invertebrates, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a research unit of the University of Austin Texas dedicated to native plants,”Scientific American reports.

Most states also have extension offices, run by their land grant universities, which can recommend native plants to buy.

About one-third of the major industrial crops are also pollinated by bees and other insects. (Such is not the case with wheat and corn, which are mostly wind-pollinated.) Besides flowers cropping up along plots of turf, demand for native crops, pollinated by indigenous insects, has grown, Dobbs said. These include native squash, alfalfa, cranberries and blueberries, Dobbs said.

Supporting locally-grown foods also helps conserve native pollinators.

One contributor to the recent decline of honeybees may be the lack of diversity found in monocultures, research suggests. But this decline also highlights the importance of maintaining populations of local pollinators, many of which are indeed important for engaging in the dance of pollination that allows farmers to put bread (or cranberries) on the table.

So what are you waiting for? Add some flowers to that lawn. The bees will thank you.

[read original post via takepart.com]

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The Plight of the Honeybee

[via time.com]

TimeBee

Mass deaths in bee colonies may mean disaster for farmers–and your favorite foods

You can thank the Apis mellifera, better known as the Western honeybee, for 1 in every 3 mouthfuls you’ll eat today. Honeybees — which pollinate crops like apples, blueberries and cucumbers — are the “glue that holds our agricultural system together,” as the journalist Hannah Nordhaus put it in her 2011 book The Beekeeper’s Lament. But that glue is failing. Bee hives are dying off or disappearing thanks to a still-unsolved malady called colony collapse disorder (CCD), so much so that commercial beekeepers are being pushed out of the business.

So what’s killing the honeybees? Pesticides — including a new class called neonicotinoids — seem to be harming bees even at what should be safe levels. Biological threats like the Varroa mite are killing off colonies directly and spreading deadly diseases. As our farms become monocultures of commodity crops like wheat and corn — plants that provide little pollen for foraging bees — honeybees are literally starving to death. If we don’t do something, there may not be enough honeybees to meet the pollination demands for valuable crops. But more than that, in a world where up to 100,000 species go extinct each year, the vanishing honeybee could be the herald of a permanently diminished planet.

[read full article via time.com]
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