OPINION: The Buzzing Crisis is Here

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Photo credit: Kent Willmeth

If you’re at all concerned about agriculture, conservation, ecology or just that your supply of honey at the grocery store won’t run out, then I have some bad news for you. You’ve probably already heard, but it bears repeating: honey bees are dying.

Last Thursday, a federal appeals court specifically concerned about pesticides’ effect on honey bees, blocked the use of the pesticide sulfoxaflor.

Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder wrote this on the decision: “In this case, given the precariousness of bee populations, leaving the EPA’s registration of sulfoxaflor in place risks more potential environmental harm than vacating it.”

The court ordered the EPA to perform additional studies and acquire additional data about the pesticide’s effect on bees before it could be granted unconditional registration.

A recent New York Times article covering the decision cited that “as much as one-third of the nation’s bees (have) disappear(ed) each winter since 2006. A 2013 report issued by the EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture cited a parasitic mite, multiple viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition, genetics, habitat loss and pesticides as factors for the bees’ disappearance.”

All right, my conservationists, it’s time to get serious about saving our buzzing friends. I personally visited the Manhattan Insect Zoo last spring, and I learned a lot about bees I did not know before – things I thought helped demonstrate how worthy bees are to have our conservational attention and environmental protection.

Bees are truly special insects because, like us, they have an immensely complex social system. The hive sends its older bees outside because of the risk of leaving the hive. So if you see one out in your garden, usually you can assume it’s an older one. Their buzz rises to a higher pitch when upset, they prefer flying about in the morning and evening when the sun is cooler and they even have a notch of democracy.

The wonderful guide at the zoo explained to me that when it is time for a colony to move or to split, a couple scouts will venture out to find a new home. They return to the hive when they do and communicate information about it with a dance. Other bees then vote, in a sense, by joining in one of those dances, eventually deciding where the group should head.

Some days it feels like this would be a stark improvement to the way our democracy is functioning now.

How can we possibly let our environmental footprint help drive this incredible species, this evolutionary success and key ecologic cog, any closer to extinction?

And all right, my agriculturalists, it’s time to get serious about saving our buzzing friends. The field of agriculture, and the vast fields of agriculture (a pun, ladies and gentlemen), are where we run into some conflict with these bees. Manu Saunders of Grist in his Oct. 15, 2014 article “Serious about saving the bees? Time to rethink agriculture,” addresses this area of conflict:

“This is the dilemma for monoculture ag. Harvesting efficiency and high yields per acre versus a functioning ‘ecosystem’ that supports all the animals and natural processes that help crops produce food for us. Acres of temporary blossoms and no spray for a few weeks don’t mean much if there is no permanent habitat for pollinators to make a home.”

There should be a concerted philosophy to sacrifice some short-term gains of heavy pesticides and habitat consumption to keep our oh-so-important pollinators alive for the long-term.

In the BBC’s online article “Would we starve without bees?” it is brought to attention that “Pollination is not just important for the food we eat directly, it’s vital for the foraging crops, such as field beans and clover, used to feed the livestock we depend on for meat. Just as importantly, it helps to feed many other animals in the food chain and maintains the genetic diversity of the flowering plants.”

And if you’re not yet fully convinced of the bees’ incredible importance in ecosystems across the globe, the British Beekeepers Association would like you to know that “the pollination benefit of bees is calculated to help the economy by millions of pounds per annum. Certain crops yield up to 25-40 percent more if efficiently pollinated and farmers in some areas of the world pay beekeepers to put hives into their fields and orchards. In the USA alone bees pollinate about 10 billion dollars worth of crops per year.”

So all right, people who just want to keep seeing honey in those cute little bear-shaped bottles at the grocery store, it’s time to get serious about saving our buzzing friends. There are lots of small gestures you can make on behalf of the honey bee.

If you see a live bee grounded and not moving, they might just be tired. Placing a small spoonful of sugar water nearby could help rejuvenate them if that is the case. Next time you or your family works on the garden, keep in mind plants that might aid the bee’s place in its ecosystem.

There is even a project being done by The Xerces Society called Project Bumble Bee, which you can participate in by reporting nest sightings on their website, helping them track and collect data on all the species of North American bumble bees.

It’s time to get serious about saving our buzzing friends for their good, for the good of ourselves and for the good of the diverse world we inhabit.

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Jonathan Greig
Hi, I’m Jonathan. I graduate this December, majoring in Anthropology, with minors in Creative Writing and Political Science. After that … we’ll see. Maybe graduate school in environmental anthropology. Maybe I’ll finally pursue my old childhood dream of becoming an infomercial host. It’s up in the air. Some of my interests and hobbies include devout sports fanaticism, religious study, and composing country songs that serve to explain the unearthly amount of disdain I have for country music. My band’s called Catfish Hurricane, you should check us out. Well, actually, you shouldn’t. I love writing, which is how I accidentally stumbled into this job. This stumbling into good things is my plan for life in general.