The bees are bummed.
First, a new study shows that their habitats are threatened by the biofuels industry, which demands more land for corn and soybeans rather than pollinator-friendly plants. Corn, according to the study, which was cited by The Washington Post, is a poor forage crop for honeybees. Plus, corn and soybeans are often treated with pesticides, presenting a double whammy to the bees.
Second, they’ve taken a beating from pesticides, most recently in South Carolina, where the aerial spraying of the pesticide Naled to combat mosquitoes carrying the Zika and West Nile viruses killed millions of honeybees in Dorchester County.
And in North Carolina, pesticides, particularly those used in the Christmas tree industry, have killed thousands of bees since 2010, according to state Department of Agriculture data. The Apiary Division investigates reported bee kills, and samples dead bees, nectar and pollen provided by the Plant Industry Division.
Most of the kills occurred in the western counties, except for one in Hertford/Perquimans county in 2010. An aerial application of pesticides and fungicides drifted off-target, killing six hives. The applicator was fined $850.
Two types of pesticides were used to kill thousands of bees in Rockingham County in 2010 and 2012. Investigators suspected vandals sprayed the hives because neighbors were upset about the bees being kept in the area.
Twenty-nine hives were poisoned with pesticides in Ashe County in 2012 and 2013, after Christmas trees had been treated with dimethoate, which kills insects on contact.
Although pesticides were not detected in the deaths of bees in four hives in Buncombe, Burke and Montgomery counties from 2014-2015, the insects were infested with varroa mites. Bees exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides have weaker immune systems, making them susceptible to mite infestations and other diseases. The state pesticide board is considering restrictions on the sale of neonics, and could rule on the issue next year.
And within the last six months, samples of pollen, nectar and dead bees tested from 4 to 35 times above detection limits for pesticides. The location of the bees’ hives was not listed in the records.
Liz Lindsey, an Orange County beekeeper, has placed her hives within lands protected by a conservancy, where no pesticides have been used in at least 20 years. “We try to put bees in safe spaces,” 1 to 3 miles from fields where pesticides have been applied. “But three miles, that’s rare to have that much distance in the United States,” Lindsey says.
The bees could better withstand the chemical assaults, Lindsey says, with more pollinator-friendly plants. If they can’t forage properly — in other words, eat enough from a variety of plants — they become weak. (The same problems would affect people if they ate nothing but French fries for breakfast, lunch and dinner.)
“The general public says, ‘I hear the bees are in trouble. What can I do to help?’” Lindsey explains. “I tell them plant, plant, plant.”
Lisa Sorg is the Environmental Reporter for N.C. Policy Watch.