Anne Else: Bee kind to pollinators

Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - 6:29pm

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Design by Kathryn Halverson

In the winter of 2018, a record number of bee colonies died in the United States. Beekeepers lost a daunting near 40 percent of their honeybee colonies due to a few detrimental factors. The threat to bees has been an issue for many years and may create drastic changes to the fabric of human agriculture. Yet, this topic is often overlooked or not met with the immediate action it deserves.

Our bee neighbors may not be human, but their services to the human race are unparalleled. They provide vast pollination across the country. Of the 369,000 plant species, 90 percent are dependent on pollination via insects. If bees continue to die out, wild flora and crops will become less healthy and unviable for commerce. Without the insect pollination, plants would remain unfertilized and would not be able to produce seeds. It is clear that the wellbeing of bees is integral to plant life. If plants are neglected and pollinators are unable to continue their job, farmers and markets will lose product. This chain of events could lead to diminished access to healthy and fresh foods and a destruction of the economic market. These real threats, as well as the looming endangerment of bees, are enough for me to believe that we need to work to save our pollinators.

The few ways to directly protect bees are, unfortunately, outisde of most people’s control. For example, farmers and industries should not use pesticides, neonicotinoids or GMOs as they can harm bees’ immune systems, and even kill them, if in contact with a chemically covered plant. Of course, the decision to use these chemicals is entirely at the discretion of the farmer or owner. They may decide the benefits of pesticides outweigh the risks of killing bees. Yet, this outlook seems ironic since killing bees will eventually lead to the decreased pollination and death of plants. It is a cycle that everyone should be educated on to understand the consequences attached to spraying pesticides.

The fight against pesticides has been difficult. Even though there is an abundant amount of evidence that pesticides are harmful, there has been very little action taken to eradicate their use. Maryann Frazier, a retired associate at the College of Agricultural Sciences at Pennsylvania State University, discusses this issue. She stated I dont expect to see a change in losses over time for this reason. Theres been no significant effort to correct what's causing the decline. … Theres a huge amount of data (and) research showing pesticides are a significant player in the decline of honeybees and other insect species. And yet theres been so little done to make a change on that front. The EPA has been incredibly ineffective.

Pesticide industry leaders seem to be avoiding the negative effects their products have on wildlife. Pesticides are the start of a downward spiral for the safety of bees and plants. According to Frazier, important figures tend to cover up their own business and hand in the destruction of bees by pointing out Varroa mites and viruses.

Varroa mites, viruses and other pests are a danger to bees and their hives. Parasites attack honeybees and kill them off at alarming rates. This natural invasion of a honeybee hive definitely plays a role in decreasing bee populations, but the fact that powerful leaders in business and politics shift their institutional harm onto these faceless parasites is irresponsible. People who hold positions of power in the pesticide industry or in the EPA should be owning up to the impacts humans have on climate change and wildlife. Due to the fact that climate change alters seasonal timing, flowers and crops are blooming at different rates. This unpredictable effect makes it difficult for bees to pollinate correctly and in a timely manner. Government figures have the means to enact sustainable policies for the crop industry and could be pouring their resources into saving our natural pollinators.

Since we cannot always rely on industry bosses to make changes for the future of bees, community members are beginning to take matters into their own backyards. Stuart Anderson invented a way to make beekeeping more accessible to homes around the world. He invented the “Flow Hive,” which allows the keeper to pull a lever and release the delicious, flowing honey. They have managed to already sell thousands of hives in 130 countries across the world. This invention creates an ease for beekeepers, and I think this ease will incentivize beekeeping even more.

If more people can learn about the importance of bees, plant flowers for them and even keep hives in their yards, bee genetic diversity will increase around the world. This diversity will ultimately help bees fortify their immune systems, strengthen colonies and resist the harms of pesticides. The backyard hobby of beekeeping contributes to an important cause and helps pollinators and plant diversity. Let us all bring bees into our communities and live under the realm of their golden glide.

Anne Else can be reached at aelse@umich.edu.