Saving Bees with More Habitat, Fewer Pesticides



South Brevard Beekeepers (SBB) and Treasure Coast Beekeepers Association (TCBA) are helping Florida bees survive by providing education, encouragement and mentoring to local beekeepers and others with interest in bees. These services are needed now more than ever because pollution, pesticides, climate change, urbanization, invasive plants and agricultural land use are all working against the bees.

While Florida has approximately 300 species of bees, it’s the honey bee that provokes the most curiosity, interest and monitoring. Unfortunately, some of that monitoring has gone away due to recent budget cuts that resulted in a decision by the USDA to suspend its annual honey bee counts.

“While simply counting bee colonies has no direct effect on their survival, these numbers are determinative for public policy, including action on climate change, insecticides, research and crop management,” says SBB president, Stuart Rowan. 

Honey bees are still being counted, thanks to voluntary reporting by beekeepers. The numbers go to the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP), a nonprofit organization in College Park, Maryland, that is a collaboration of leading academic honey bee research facilities and amateur and commercial beekeepers across the U.S. Researchers analyze the data and report results on the managed hives.

From April 2018 to April 2019, BIP reported that managed apiaries had a loss of 40.7 percent of all managed hives.

“While this represents just 2.9 percent above the normal annual losses, the numbers of colonies lost for the winter months was up nearly 7 percent. While most Beekeepers can absorb these losses through better management practices, it remains important to monitor these trends,” says Rowan. 

It’s not just honey bees that are declining. In 2018 the EPA approved the emergency use of sulfoxaflor (considered “very highly toxic” to bees) on more than 16 million acres of crops. The approved spraying was on crops known to attract honey bees and other pollinator species.

Bees being harmed for the sake of crops may seem paradoxical, because without enough pollinators, many food crops will suffer or fail. The answers, it seems, may lie with the actions of individual citizens who can work to make changes in societal norms.

“Not everybody wants to or can be a backyard beekeeper, but everybody can do their part to save the bees,” says Michael Harrell, president of TCBA.

Harrell points out that most people are unaware of the habitat bees require or the large number of different species that exist. To help all bees, people need to learn about these habitats and stop destroying them. In addition, stopping the use of pesticides is essential. These steps will allow pollinator friendly landscapes to exist.

“Lawns don’t need to be ‘perfect.’ Keep things wilder, add local plants and flowers that pollinators need. The Florida Wildflower Foundation is a good place to find local plants and flowers for pollinators,” Harrell says.   

The more people learn about bees, the more awareness there will be about protecting habitats, discouraging pesticide use, planting beneficial landscapes instead of monoculture turf lawns and perhaps turning the tide toward an increase in bees. In the meantime, honey bees will be voluntarily counted and studied.

“In many ways, honey bees are the proverbial ‘canaries in the coal mines.’ We have often heard that as the honey bee goes, so goes mankind. It may be that it is the loss of billions of pounds of biomass that goes unreported that will be the tipping point in food chain production that changes our ability to feed our planet,” says Rowan.   

Treasure Coast Beekeepers Association usually meets the third Wednesday of every month at the IFAS Hurricane House, ‚Äč8350 Picos Rd, Fort Pierce. Contact honey@andhives.com or tcbeekeepers@gmail.com for more information.

South Brevard Beekeepers meets the second Tuesday of every month at the Christian Development Center, 343 Nail St NE, Palm Bay. southbrevardbeekeepers.com. Contact sturow@aol.com for more information.

For more information on Bee Informed Partnership, see BeeInformed.org.

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