....A widely distributed press release from about our (USA) pollination situation contains some important truth, but also contains some distortions and leaves out some very important factors. Here is the text with my commentary:
Source: The Forgotten Pollinators Campaign, Arizona-
Sonora Desert Museum, 2021 N. Kinney Rd., Tucson, AZ 85743;
November 22, 1996
Native Species Fill the Gap Left by Drastic Honeybee Declines
Following five consecutive years of the worst honeybee declines in U.S. history, experts predicted that pollinator scarcity could seriously limit crop yields in the U.S. for such traditional Thanksgiving foods as pumpkins, apples, cranberries, almonds and squash. Insects must pollinate these and many other food crops. Honey bees -- the type kept by beekeepers -- are America's number-one pollinator. But honey bees have been largely absent from fields and orchards around the country in recent years, due to a combination of pesticide exposure, early cold weather and disease caused by parasitic mites. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last spring that in some parts of the country, up to 90% of all honey bees had been killed.
Fortunately, Mother Nature has come to the rescue -- at least for now. According to a new report released by The Forgotten Pollinators Campaign, pollination by wild native bees has averted shortages of fruits and vegetables that are staples of the U.S. holiday season.
To compile their report, scientists from the Forgotten Pollinators Campaign sampled field crops in Alabama, Arizona and Maine, and compiled bee and crop estimates from New York, California, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Iowa and elsewhere. Their field census data indicated reduced visits by honey bees through the spring and summer -- in many cases no visits at all. However, bumblebees, squash bees, gourd bees, sweat bees, leaf-cutting bees and other wild native species were all prevalent.
While official U.S. government data on 1996 honey bee populations will not be available until January, the Campaign's survey of key agricultural states -- combined with anecdotal evidence from around the nation -- indicates that farmers and gardeners continue to feel the effects of declining honey bee populations. One indicator of these shortages is the cost to farmers for renting honey bee colonies to pollinate their crops. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, the Campaign found rental costs for agricultural pollination had climbed more than 50% in the past three years.
Wild native bees have lived in our forests and fields since long before the first importation of the honey bee from Europe some 400 years ago. Today, threats to the honey bee mean that their wild cousins are more important than ever. Unfortunately, these insects are also susceptible to the pressures of human population growth and pesticides sprayed on crops.
"We must invest more resources in protecting wild pollinators," concludes Dr. Gary Nabhan, co-director of the Forgotten Pollinators Campaign and co-author with Dr. Stephen Buchmann of the book "Forgotten Pollinators". He notes that farmers can utilize simple strategies to help -- keeping the edges of their fields in a natural condition to provide nesting areas and applying pesticides in the evening hours when bees are not active.
"Wild pollinators will be increasingly responsible for stabilizing the U.S. food supply in an era of honey bee scarcity. While it is important to do everything we can to keep honey bee populations healthy, it is clear that a pollination crisis can be averted only by diversifying our 'pollinator portfolio.'"
********************************************************************************** The following is commentary by Dave Green:
I am in complete agreement with the conclusion of the Forgotten Pollinators Campaign that we must enhance and develop alternative pollinators to improve our pollination situation. We cannot depend solely on honeybees for our pollination needs. However, to write off honeybees and expect that "Mother Nature" will "come to the rescue" is an invitation to famine. It makes some premature and sweeping assumptions that may not be valid.
It is true that wild bees have shown some resurgeance in the absense of competition from honeybees. But this has not happened everywhere, and where it does, is only of significant import to gardeners and very small farmers. We are forgetting that the bulk of our food supply today is grown in monoculture situations. Without help, wild bees cannot produce large enough populations to adequately pollinate today's large farms.
In orchards, for example, there is one rush of bloom each year. Then, from a bee's perspective, barrenness for the rest of the year. Not only is the environment barren, but it is acutely hostile, as repeated pesticide applications are made. Alternative pollinators cannot be relied upon until we gain the techology to culture and concentrate them into the orchards at the time of bloom. This technology is in its infancy today.
Honeybees have been cultured throughout human history, and the capability to concentrate them for pollination has been well developed.
Secondly, while it is noted that honeybees are not native pollinators, it is not mentioned that many of our basic food crops are also imported. Honeybees have been the primary pollinators of human food crops throughout history. The sensationalist tone of the article seems to write off honeybees, and ignores this important fact. While we may be wistful, there is no way to return to the "pristine" environmental conditions of precolonial America. It has been changed forever, and we might as well make the best of it.
Thirdly the report ignores the contribution of the beekeepers who "busted their butts" to get honeybees into the orchards and fields in time to pollinate the crops. Crediting "Mother Nature" with the "rescue" is a slap-in-the-face to all these men and women, who are among the hardest working and most productive of all Americans. It would be unfortunate if the Forgotten Pollinators Campaign pits beekeepers and advocates of alternative pollinators against each other, when they are natural allies.
Researchers who visited eastern sites must have concentrated on backyard gardens and very small farms; they could not have gone to commercial orchards and farms of any size. Last spring there was a lot of hand-wringing in the media about the winter losses of honeybees in the north, but little note of the fact that many of the honeybees had gone south for the winter. And replacements for the lost bees were already being prepared in the South to be rushed north in time to pollinate the orchards.
On the east coast, migratory beekeepers carry many tractor-trailer loads of bees to Florida, South Carolina and Gulf Coast Locations. Each hive that overwinters in the south is like a pregnant cow. The pollen and nectar of spring bloom stimulates the bees and it is "calving" time. The bees build rapidly and more hives are started. Most of these are returned north to replace losses and make increase. This is a normal situation, this past year was just more stressful, with the larger losses.
From Florida, thousands of truckloads of bees are used in citrus groves for honey production and pollination, then they are loaded and transported to northeastern and Great Lakes orchards. Hundreds of thousands of hives were provided to pollinate the crops. Many growers were not able to get as many as they wanted, and most had to pay a little more than they preferred, but few were without honeybees, and those were, were those who waited until the last minute to order.
Fourth, even as we talk of the need for more protection for wild pollinators from pesticides, there is intense lobbying going on to remove the only current protection they have in US law.
Pesticides that are toxic to bees have label directions (placed under "Environmental Hazards") that prohibit application while bees are foraging. The placement of the instructions in the environmental section acknowledges the value of these pollinators as an important environmental resource, and it clearly does not distinguish one species of bee from another. The label directions definitely make the applicator responsible for bee protection; application in violation of the label is illegal.
While the law thus protects foraging bees, in practice, this is seldom implemented. Pesticide enforcement is at the state level, and bee-protection label enforcement is best in states that have a lot of fruits and veggies that need bee pollination. There is rarely any training to pesticide applicators to help them determine when bees are foraging.
Almost all enforcement is directed only to managed honeybees, and many states actually "officially" circumvent the label directions. Rather than implement the label directions, they have pesticide applicators notify beekeepers of applications.
South Carolina pesticide regulators have made public statements that officially refuse to ackowledge that label directions apply to wild bees. North Carolina, in a massive aerial spraying program last fall, for mosquito control after Hurricane Fran, also refused to protect wild pollinators. They applied resmethrin and malathion (in clear violation of the labels) during warm, sunny afternoons when bumblebees, solitary bees, and honeybees were at peak foraging activity on goldenrod and astor. (I personally documented this with videotape.)
The present lobbying by the pesticide industry is in the guise of "reforming" bee protection directions. It is aimed at shifting the burden for bee protection entirely back to beekeepers. And it seeks to evade any legal protection for wild pollinators by specifying only managed honeybees in label directions. South Carolina pesticide regulation head, Dr. Von McCaskill, proposed replacement current bee directions with the vague statement, "Avoid applications which would result in adverse effects to managed honeybees." This statement would be completely unenforceable, even for domestic bees, and totally removes protection for all wild bees.
Two official versions of the statements are now under consideration by the EPA, according to Dr. Tom Sanford, Florida bee specialist:
Proposed statement #1--
Beekeepers will continue to be the turkeys at the turkey shoot. What do you do, when a half dozen applicators, in as many different locations, call and say, "We're spraying tomorrow morning; move the bees?" Run, run, run, and there is no place to run to!
I believe the current statements for bee protection offer good protection for bees, by protecting them as they forage, which is sufficient protection overall. Implementation must be based on teaching pesticide applicators how to observe when bees are foraging. This is an excellent opportunity for extension.
However, because many state regulators are so reluctant to implement and enforce the label directions, I believe the following clarifications in interpretation need to be made:
If you are concerned about wild pollinators, you'd better speak up.
And if you are a beekeeper who is tired of poverty, because your neighbors keep poisoning your livestock, you might do so, too!
Fruit and Vegetable Growers? Gardeners? Do you need pollination?
Dr. Sanford says, Comments on the proposal being published in the Federal Register for public comment may be addressed to Jim Bach, Washington Department of Agriculture, Box 42560, Olympia, Washington 98504-2560, phone #306/902-2094. Also one can correspond with Jim Downing, Office of Pesticide Programs, USEPA phone #703/308-8641 or fax 703/308-8369.