Thursday, September 25, 2008

Colony Collapse Disorder: bees continue to die

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) hit the public consciousness last year with news that nearly one-third of all commercial beehives had died-- collapsed. This year has been quieter but the news is no better-- an increase of 13% over last year brings losses to more than one-third through the winter of 2007-08, according to the USDA.

The USDA isn't telling all it knows, however. On August 18, The Natural Resources Defense Council filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency to force it to reveal any connections between pesticide use and CCD. According to the Organic Consumers Association,

"Recently approved pesticides have been implicated in massive bee die-offs and are the focus of increasing scientific scrutiny," said NRDC Senior Attorney Aaron Colangelo. "EPA should be evaluating the risks to bees before approving new pesticides, but now refuses to tell the public what it knows. Pesticide restrictions might be at the heart of the solution to this growing crisis, so why hide the information they should be using to make those decisions?"

In 2003, EPA granted a registration to a new pesticide manufactured by Bayer CropScience under the condition that Bayer submit studies about its product's impact on bees. EPA has refused to disclose the results of these studies, or if the studies have even been submitted. The pesticide in question, clothianidin, recently was banned in Germany due to concerns about its impact on bees. A similar insecticide was banned in France for the same reason a couple of years before. In the United States, these chemicals still are in use despite a growing consensus among bee specialists that pesticides, including clothianidin and its chemical cousins, may contribute to CCD.

Although no full-scale study has yet taken place, organic beehives have been largely immune to CCD. CCD also does not affect solitary bees. Go Prairie has a post about the amazing number of bees in the U.S. Unfortunately, given that one third of every mouthful of food we eat is pollinated by domesticated bees, we are scarcely out of the woods.

Want to help do your part to protect bees in your own back yard? NRDC has the following suggestions:

Bee Friendly, Bee Safe: Here's How

You can also help keep bees healthy by making your yard and garden colorful, diverse and pesticide free. Here are some tips on how you can Bee Safe:

  • Bee Native: Use local and native plants in your yard and garden. These plants thrive easily and are well suited for local bee populations, providing pollen and nectar for bees to eat.

  • Bee Diverse: Plant lots of different kinds of plants in your yard. Plant diversity ensures that your garden attracts many different varieties of bees and gives them a range of flowering plants to choose from throughout the year. Make sure your yard plants vary in:
    • Color: Bees have good vision and are attracted to several different colors of flowers.
    • Shape: Different species of bees are better suited for different shapes of flowers. Give your bees some variety!
    • Flowering times: Having a sequence of plant species that flower throughout the year helps sustain the food supply and attract different species of bees.

  • Bee Open to Pollen: Pollen is bee food. Genetically engineered pollen-free plants trick bees into thinking they'll find food, and then leave them hungry. (Don't worry, flower pollen isn't a big contributor to most people's allergies.)

  • Bee Pesticide Wary: There are many natural methods to control pests in your garden. Researchers believe pesticides are a contributing factor to Colony Collapse Disorder. Moreover, some insecticides are harmful to bees and wipe out flowers that provide bees with food. If you must, use targeted pesticides and spray at night -- when bees aren't active -- on dry days.

  • Bee a Hive Builder: Building your own bee hive is easy and fun. Creating a wood nest is a good place to start -- wood-nesting bees don�t sting! Simply take a non-pressure treated block of wood and drill holes that are 3/32 inch to 5/16 inch in diameter and about 5 inches deep and wait for the bees to arrive.
Photo of a bee house from *Susie's* photostream at Flickr.

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