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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.

CITIES ARE KEY TO SAVING BEES
By Noah Wilson-Rich via blog.press.princeton.edu

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

READ: Stung By Dead Bees

By Glen Martin via callawyer.com

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 callawyer.com]

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

Read full story · Posted in News

READ: Swarm-less Spring and Summer?

By HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki

butterfly_plants

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.

Read full story · Posted in Newsletter Articles

READ: Pooh and Piglet save the bees

By Sarah Knapton via telegraph.co.uk

Beekeepers have joined forces with Winnie-the-Pooh to encourage children to bake with local honey, visit nearby apiaries and throw seed-bombs

Winnie-the Pooh might be a ‘bear of very little brain’ but even he has become troubled to learn that his beloved treat of honey is under threat by the continuing decline of Britain’s bees.

New figures from the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) showed the colonies declined by 14.5 per cent last winter, 50 per cent more than the previous year, despite efforts to tackle to the problem by banning pesticides.

Now the BBKA has teamed up with Pooh illustrator Mark Burgess, who coloured E H Shepherd’s original black-and-white drawings, to produce a brand new story – Winnie-the-Pooh and the Missing Bees – as well as a guide to saving the honeybees.

In the new story, Pooh and Piglet decide to visit the honeybees after noticing a honey shortage in The Hundred Acre Wood.

Speaking to Piglet, Pooh says: “I have been very careful with it, Piglet, as there hasn’t been much honey lately. But you can only be careful for so long before you run out altogether.”

Beekeepers are also h oping to engage children by encouraging them to bake with local honey, become beekeepers, visit nearby apiaries and throw seed-bombs to help the spread of wildflowers.

New illustrations show AA Milne’s characters Christopher Robin, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and Pooh making a vegetable patch in the Yorkshire Dales, building a bee box in the shadow of the Angel of the North in Gateshead, and planting a flowering tree in the shadow of Warwick Castle.

Planting a bee-friendly tree beneath Warwick Castle

The friends are also pictured dropping bee-balls in Birmingham, painting in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire and visiting a honey show in Glastonbury.

Nicole Pearson, Associate Publisher from Egmont Publishing which publishes the Pooh books said: “Winnie-the-Pooh is famed for his love of honey, so who better to encourage families to get out and about and take part in fun activities that can help support our honey bees.

“We’re very excited to be working with the BBKA to support such a worthwhile cause.”

• Bees ‘may be developing form of animal Alzheimer’s’

• Bees contribute more to British economy than Royal Family

• Bee colonies collapse ‘as stressed young workers grow up too fast’

A survey by the BBKA found that 58 per cent of people wanted to help stop the decline of bees but do not know how to go about it.

“While many people are aware of the plight of the honey bee, there are many that don’t know what they can do to help,” said David Aston, President of the British Beekeepers Association.

“We hope that by supporting our ‘Friends of the Honey Bee’ initiative with the brand new guide inspired by Winnie-the-Pooh, families across the country can get involved, making a practical contribution and supporting bee health research.”

Planting a bee friendly vegetable patch in the Yorkshire Dales

The BBKA annual study surveyed 900 British beekeepers selected at random, to establish the impact that last winter has had on honey bee colonies

Some regions have been more greatly affected by bee decline than others. The west has seen drops of 18 per cent, the North East 15.5 per cent and the East of England 14.7 per cent,

While the exact cause is unknown, scientists have speculated that pesticides, pathogens, mites, poor weather and changing beekeeping practices have all contributed to the decline.

Last month scientists in California suggested that a tiny parasite could be behind the rapid colony collapse while researchers at Keele and Sussex Universities claimed aluminium poisoning could be leaving bees with a kind of animal Alzheimer’s disease.

A survey of school children carried out by the BBKA found that most youngsters are aware of the threat to the environment from the decline of bees but do not know what steps to help. environment. However less than a quarter (22 per cent) of children are aware of any steps they could take in order to help.

The ‘bee-friendly’ guide can be found at www.friendsofthehoneybee.com

 

Pooh’s guide to saving the bees

  1. Plant your own window box
  2. Create your own vegetable patch or tub together
  3. Plant a flowering tree in your garden
  4. Make some ‘seed balls’ and throw them into the wild
  5. Use arts and crafts to educate the younger generation on the importance of bees
  6. Learn to become a beekeeper yourself by attending a course through the British Beekeepers Association
  7. Bake together at home using local honey
  8. Build bee habitats
  9. Volunteer for your local beekeeper association or visit your local apiary
  10. Don’t panic if you see a swarm of honey bees, stay away and contact your local swarm collector
Read full story · Posted in News, Yay Bees

READ: Oslo protects endangered bees

By Agence France-Presse via theguardian.com

Norway’s capital is creating a route filled with flowers and ‘green roofs’ to protect endangered pollinators essential to food production

From flower-emblazoned cemeteries to rooftop gardens and balconies, Norway’s capital Oslo is creating a “bee highway” to protect endangered pollinators essential to food production.

“We are constantly reshaping our environment to meet our needs, forgetting that other species also live in it,” Agnes Lyche Melvaer, head of the Bybi, an environmental group supporting urban bees, which is leading the project.

“To correct that we need to return places to them to live and feed,” she explained, sitting on a bench in a lush city centre square bursting with early Nordic summer growth.

With its sunflowers, marigolds and other nectar-bearing flowers planted by bee-loving locals and school children, Abel’s Garden was until recently covered only in grass but is now a floral “feeding station” for bees.

Oslo’s “bee highway” aims to give the insects a safe passage through the city, lined with relays providing food and shelter – the first such system in the world, according to the organisers.

Participants in the project – state bodies, companies, associations and private individuals – are invited to post their contribution on a website (polli.no), which maps out the bees’ route across the city.

On the 12th floor of an ultra-modern office block in the capital’s chic business district on the edge of Oslo fjord, a major accountancy firm has covered parts of its terrace in brightly-flowering Sedum plants and two bee hives.

It houses some 45,000 worker bees, busily unaware of their smart-suited office counterparts enjoying their lunch just metres away.

“One should see it as a sign that companies are also taking responsibility for preserving biodiversity,” said accountant and bee-keeping enthusiast Marie Skjelbred…

“Agriculture is completely dependent on pollinators to maintain food production just as insects are dependent on diverse agriculture to survive. It’s a mutual dependence,” he added.

The mass destruction of bee populations around the world has already forced farmers in the Chinese province of Sichuan to pollinate plants by hand, and in the US some farmers are left with no choice but to rent hives transported cross-country by truck to pollinate crops.

But in Abel’s Garden in Oslo, Agnes Lyche Melvaer says she has faith in the “butterfly effect”.

“If we manage to solve a global problem locally it’s conceivable that this local solution will work elsewhere too.”

[read full article via theguardian.com]

Read full story · Posted in News

READ: Beekeeping on it’s way to being legal in Long Beach!

SO MOVED: Birds And Bees Among Urban Agriculture Issues Taken Up By City Council

A second attempt to allow more urban agriculture in Long Beach passed its first test Tuesday night when the City Council approved a request to the city attorney to create an ordinance amending the current law.

In March 2013, a draft was brought to the council to change rules for keeping chickens, goats and bees in residential areas. More work was done before a vote in July 2013, but the changes failed on a 4-3 vote, with two council members absent. The issue resurfaced, and four council members — Lena Gonzalez (First), Suja Lowenthal (Second), Daryl Supernaw (Fourth) and Dee Andrews (Sixth) — brought the idea back to the full council Tuesday.

In their letter to the rest of the council, the sponsors cited strides made to become a more livable city, including promoting healthy food choices, as the reason to reconsider the rules now…

The motion passed unanimously.

[read full article here]

—————

ORDINANCE DETAILS:

- 4 hives allowed
- 10 foot setback
- Register with LA County Department of Agriculture

NEXT STEPS:
City staff will provide City Council with the ordinance language and then the issue will be up for a final vote.

Read full story · Posted in News

WATCH: Saviors of Honeybees @Ford #GoFurther

The Saviors of Honeybees in the City of Angels

Ford Go Further | Everyday Heroes

Honey bees are responsible for $15 billion in U.S. agriculture crops each year, and pollinate 80% of the world’s plants.

What’s alarming is beekeepers are losing up to 50% of their hives every year, often vanishing without a trace or explanation. For Ford owners Rob and Chelsea McFarland, keeping these bees buzzing has become a passion, and they’re turning the city of Los Angeles into an unlikely urban beekeeping haven through community outreach, education and, of course, a few beehives of their own.

To learn more about urban beekeeping and how you can help keep these important bees buzzing visit, honeylove.org.

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz

READ: Teaching Children to Love Bees, Not Fear Them

By JENNIFER BERNEY via parenting.blogs.nytimes.com

Several years ago, reports of the declining bee population inspired my partner to keep bees in our yard. Her reasons were mainly practical—not only did she want to support the vanishing bees, she hoped our plum trees might increase their yield. But it took less than one season for my partner to fall in love, and over time the number of hives in our backyard has multiplied from two to 10. At my house this week we know that spring has arrived because my 2-year-old points out the window and yells excitedly: “Bees!”

I consider both of my children lucky to know the honeybees so well. Living with a beekeeper has afforded me a chance to observe how children interact with bees. From what I’ve seen so far, they fall into two distinct camps: those who are fascinated, and those who are afraid.

There are kids who watch in wonder as the honeybees land on the stones in our birdbath and drink water through their delicate tongues, and there are kids who cover their hair with their hands and run away screaming. There are kids who knock on our door to buy a jar of honey and ask to see our bees, and there are kids who will poke a long stick through our fence and bang it against the roof of a hive.

I worry that the child who runs from bees in fear will grow up to be the adult who spots a healthy swarm in her backyard and sprays it with insecticide. I worry that the child who bangs on a hive roof will grow up to be the teenager who knocks over a neighbor’s hive in the middle of the night. These are two kinds of transgressions that happen often in my community, and they are undeserved. Unlike the many varieties of wasps, bees are gentle creatures. They pollinate our crops, make honey, and rarely sting unless provoked.

In recent years, beekeepers have continued to report high annual losses. An annual survey of beekeepers conducted by a partnership that includes the United States Department of Agriculture, released Wednesday, suggested both that significant losses in colonies continue, and that the loss rate in summer has increased. We compensate for this by breeding and replacing our lost colonies year after year. Scientists are no longer concerned that the honeybee’s extinction is imminent, but we are not yet off the hook. The disappearing bees have reminded us that our survival is interdependent. We live in collaboration with other species. A child who squashes bees or runs from them is a child who hasn’t yet learned their value, and it’s our job to teach them.

This might begin by teaching our children what a honeybee looks like. Before my partner brought home our first colony of bees, I was like many adults in that I could not distinguish a honeybee from a bumblebee, and had only the vaguest notion that wasps were a different species entirely. The yellow jacket who is harassing you at the end of summer, trying to take a bite of your ham sandwich, has little in common with the honeybee who is gathering pollen and nectar. Children are capable of making this distinction; like adults, they just need a little guidance.

Teaching children to value the honeybee might also include explaining the phenomenon of swarming, which, contrary to popular belief, is not an angry behavior. Honeybees swarm when their colony has grown healthy enough to divide in two. One half of them remain in the hive to welcome a new queen, while the other half leaves in search of a new home. They fill their bellies with nectar and travel in a cluster to shelter their old queen. The sight of a cluster of bees on a branch in a yard or a park is an opportunity for observation, a lesson about the intelligence of the insect world.

And that is the real lesson the bees offer: as smart as we humans are, we don’t know everything. At my house we can dance to Beyoncé in the living room, but we can’t wiggle our butts in a sequence so precise that it communicates the location of a nectar source three miles away. Bees can.

My partner has a practice that many beekeepers would find silly. Though a typical worker bee lives for only six weeks, in the evening my partner often picks up bees who have grown cold and fallen just outside the entrance to their hive. She collects them in a jar, brings them inside our house to warm them up and later, once they are restored, she returns them to their home. I used to tease her about this. Bees are members of a complex system. They are not individuals, and it struck me as foolish to attend to them as such. But then last week I saw my 6-year-old son crouch in front of a hive at dusk to gather languishing bees in his small hand. In that moment I realized what the bees had taught him — it’s the very lesson we all need to learn: that every small part of the system counts for something.

[Read original article via parenting.blogs.nytimes.com]

Read full story · Posted in News, Yay Bees

READ: Backyard beekeeping could soon be legal in Los Angeles

POSTED BY JOHN SCHREIBER via mynewsla.com

Beekeeping would be legal in the backyards of Los Angeles homes under regulations to be considered soon by a City Council committee.

The proposed rules — approved by the city planning commission this week and now headed to the council’s Planning and Land Use Committee — would allow hobbyists and others interested in small-scale beekeeping to maintain hives in single-family residential settings.

Beekeepers would need to adhere to certain restrictions under the proposed rules. No more than one hive would be allowed for each 2,500 square feet of space, and there must be a 5-foot buffer between the hive and the front, side and rear lot lines of the property.

Hives also must be at least 20 feet away from public right of way or a private streets and cannot be kept in the front yard, according to the rules.

The proposed ordinance also calls for hives to be surrounded by a 6-foot wall, fence or hedge, or else it must be set 8 feet above ground, so that the bees would be encouraged to stay above “human-level.”

The bees also must have access to a nearby water source within the beekeeper’s property so that the bees would not need to travel outside to look for water.

If the City Council approves the ordinance, Los Angeles would join Santa Monica in legalizing so-called “backyard” or “urban” beekeeping. The hobby also is allowed in other urban areas such as New York City and Denver.

The Los Angeles Planning Department and the city attorney created the proposed rules after the City Council ordered a study last February into ways to legalize backyard beekeeping.

The council action came in response to a growing chorus of Angelenos advocating for “urban beekeeping,” including from some residents in the Mar Vista area who said increased beekeeping helps to fight a troubling, downward trend in the bee population that could threaten the health of local agriculture.

Councilman Paul Koretz, who supports legalizing urban beekeeping, said last year the state has been losing a third of its bees a year since 2006, threatening California’s avocado and almond industry.

Some council members voiced concerns, however, that the bees could pose a danger to residents, with Councilman Bernard Parks referring to a National Geographic documentary entitled “Attack of the Killer Bees,” about a dangerous variety of bees that appear to be encroaching into southern United States.

Planning officials who consulted bee experts over the last year wrote in a recent city report that the variety of honey bees used in beekeeping are “non-aggressive,” but they may “sting in self-defense of their hive if it is approached.”

The report adds that when the bees leave their hives to collect food — potentially coming in contact with humans — they “do not become defensive or aggressive or have reason to sting.”

The report also notes Los Angeles already averages about 8 to 10 feral bee hives per each square mile. The addition of backyard honey bees would not cause a shortage of bee food supply in the city due to the area’s steady climate, but if there were a shortage, the feral populations would likely leave the area to find alternative sources of food supply, according to the bee experts consulted by planning officials.

— City News Service

 

Read full story · Posted in News

READ: Sweet! Los Angeles is closer to legalizing beekeeping

Rob McFarland holds a beehive of honeybees. (Los Angeles Times)

By KERRY CAVANAUGH via LA Times

Los Angeles is getting closer to legalizing backyard beekeeping and the proposed ordinance couldn’t come at a better time.

Professional beekeepers reported this week that 42% of their honeybees died in the last year, and, for the first time, they lost more bees during the summer than the winter. That’s surprising and worrisome because bees typically suffer in the cold weather, but fare better during the warm pollination season. And it underscores fears that parasites, pesticides and farming practices might be weakening the bee population, which is essential for pollinating the nation’s food crops.

Backyard beekeeping can’t replace commercial beekeeping operations, but the urban honeybees may help replenish the diminishing supply, or provide disease-resistant genes that can be introduced in the commercial bee lines. The more healthy bees in the environment, the better for everyone.

Current city law prohibits beekeeping, except on land zoned for agricultural uses. The proposed ordinance, approved Thursday by the city Planning Commission, would allow beekeeping by right in single-family neighborhoods. The resident would need to register as a beekeeper with the Los Angeles County agriculture commissioner, have no more than one hive per 2,500 square feet of lot, keep the hives at least five feet from the neighbors’ yards and 20 feet from the street or sidewalk and keep a source of water for the bees so they don’t seek water from the neighbors’ swimming pool or bird bath. There’s no pre-approval needed, but the city will respond to complaints and if residents break the rules or can’t manage their bees, the city can revoke the right to keep hives.

The City Council still needs to OK the new backyard beekeeping policy before it can take effect, but city leaders have been supportive of urban agriculture. And why not? L.A. has the ideal climate and long growing seasons. The city has hillsides, vacant lots and yards that can support small farms and hobby farmers. A vegetable garden or orchard is a more productive use of our precious water supply than a green lawn. And more fruits and vegetables grown locally mean less produce has to be trucked and shipped over great distance, meaning fresher food and less fossil fuels burned in transport.

[Read original article on LA Times]

 

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz, News