Some of the stories have been purposely selected and edited to push an agenda, and many contain statistics long since refuted as propaganda, lies, urban legends and outright baloney. Social media is the life breath of mindless drivel, resurrecting unadulterated garbage through one click of the “SHARE” button that does not even require reading, let alone comprehension of what is, “shared.”
And we all know, that if you read it on the Internet, it’s got to be true.
The main culprit in many of these stories encompasses a generic demon we call, “pesticides.” Pesticides target a pest, whether that pest is a bug (like a roach), an animal (like mice) or a weed (like dandelions or crabgrass). In our chemical existence, pesticides are everywhere. In many cases, pesticides make our lives better, safer and more productive. But sadly, as it often seems the case, we herald a certain chemical as the savior protecting humanity from a horrific disease one day. Then the next day, blaring headlines announce its recall for causing even more horrific side effects in unintentional victims.
Pesticides are necessary, to a large degree, in our present system of industrial agriculture to produce and protect our crops from devastating bugs. But pesticides also have collateral issues. When pesticides are sprayed, other crops and living organisms are susceptible because the wind causes the pesticide to drift where it may not be welcome. Solid pesticides, like granules and dustings, and liquids often move from the plant into soil and water, and move with the rain in the runoff and erosion.
The beekeepers keep an eye on two kinds of pesticides. The first kind is the agricultural pesticides we disdain as farmers and growers spray their fields. Oddly, we tend to coddle and cradle many of these same pesticides packaged for the suburban homeowner who claim their necessity to maintain their manicured lawns and produce beautiful roses. These same pesticides will also run off the lawn into storm sewers and end up in our streams that run through the park where our children play.
Pesticides, though a very integral part of our existence, for better and for worse, have become the favorite villain of the news media. Bold statements like, “Pesticides are killing our bees,” project a simplicity that ignores the complexity of multiple issues. Bees are still dying, but other factors play large roles in this complexity.
We continue to lose habitat where the bees forage. Land that was previously set aside from production through the Conservation Reserve Program is being released into production. Those weeds and wildflowers will be plowed under and replaced with corn or soybeans. Last year, in 2014, the total acreage released was the collective size of the state of Delaware. That’s a lot of lost forage. It’s also a lot of floral diversity that provided a well-balanced diet of pollen and nectar. Poor food options and inadequate nutrition are known issues in dying honey bees .
Diseases and viruses continue to plague our bees, spread through an insidious little parasite called the varroa mite. Mites entered our country in the early 1980s, and life in the bee hive has never been the same. Then toss in the stress that comes from unpredictable weather and a polluted environment…well, the bees have problems. And let's not kid ourselves, we got problems, too.
We all know these same factors impact human health. Poor nutrition, overly processed food options, bad health from sedentary lifestyles and stress from working (or being unemployed) all take a horrible toll on us. We know good health comes from eating right, getting moderate exercise and adequate sleep.
Likewise, there are thoughts, that if our bees foraged on a better diet of diverse floral sources, if our air and water were not polluted, and that if we could eliminate this mite and the associated health issues the bring, the issues from pesticides might be manageable!
What we're learning is that there is no one, simple, single problem. Everything is related. There are interactions that escape our most detailed observations. My fear is the problem is bigger than we imagine, and make take drastic steps, even sacrifices larger than we may be willing to endure. We know we need the honey bees, but how far are we willing to go to protect her chances of survival?
Pesticides are easy to blame. We understand how they work. They kill bugs, and bees are bugs. But the issue is so much more complex than just pesticides. The solution to the problem of dying bees will be equally complex. It remains our hope that someday we will have things figured out.
Beekeepers, and those that care about bees might be interested in one of my books, Sustainable Beekeeping. Details may be found at https://www.createspace.com/4542110