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Massive Honeybee Die Off in Montecito
updated: Jan 30, 2013, 10:55 AM

By Todd Bebb of Santa Barbara Beekeepers Association

Santa Barbara Beekeepers Association announces: Massive Honeybee Die Off in Montecito

Last October, SBBA was called out to several backyard beekeepers' properties in response to massive honeybee die-offs. Local amateur beekeeper, Carrie Kappel, called SBBA when she noticed hundreds of dead and dying bees outside her backyard beehive. "It was devastating to see the number of dead bees outside the hive, and watch those in their death throes, twitching and stumbling around in front of the hive, unable to fly. I watched the whole hive go from healthy and vigorous to empty over a few short weeks."

A total of 16 formerly healthy hives, with an average population of 30-60,000 bees each were lost. SBBA estimates approximately 750,000 bees lost their lives, all within a 1.5-mile radius. The Association submitted four test samples to Penn State University for a comprehensive pesticide screening and just received the reports back from the USDA labs.

As SBBA leaders suspected, there were several commonly used pesticides found in bee food stores, brood cells and wax. These include bifenthrin (found in hundreds of agricultural and household pesticide products), chlorpyrifos (used on orchards, golf courses, and crops, and banned from residential use), cyhalothrin (found in household and commercial products like Demand®, Karate®, and Warrior®), and fipronil (used in over 50 products to control ants, termites, fleas and other insects, e.g., Frontline®, Goliath®, Nexa®, and Regent®). All of these chemicals are known to be highly toxic to bees. Also found at low levels were two legal miticides used by beekeepers to control mites. While this does not prove that pesticides were behind the die-offs, it does point to them as a possible factor.

According to Penn State Senior Extension Associate, Maryann Frazier, "Honey bees across the country are being exposed to a great diversity and sometimes high levels of pesticides. While the evidence associated with the Montecito die-off is not conclusive, the symptoms of colony deaths and detections of low levels of pesticides toxic to honey bees are suspicious and cause for concern."

While SBBA is very upset about this loss, its leaders hope that by spreading the word about the die-off, community members will become more aware of the potential dangers of pesticides for honeybees and other pollinators. The organization encourages pest control companies, horticulturalists, landscape contractors and homeowners to evaluate the products that they are using and how they are being applied and work to reduce risks to honeybees and other beneficial insects.

Honeybees have been in decline worldwide. Frazier notes, "We believe that pesticide exposure is an important factor contributing to pollinator decline and possibly Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)." Colony Collapse Disorder has wiped out honeybee hives in the US and elsewhere, threatening both the viability of commercial beekeeping and the sustainability of the pollination services that honeybees provide to agricultural crops, domestic gardens, and wild plants. Whatever the cause of the Montecito die-off - whether acute pesticide poisoning, CCD, or other stresses - it may be symptomatic of a general decline in the quality of our environment for honeybees. "Honeybees and other pollinators are getting hit hard, but there are things we can do to reduce the threats to them," said SBBA President, Paul Cronshaw.

Pesticides applied to plants that are in bloom can be transferred to the hive by bees foraging for nectar and pollen, and thus the pesticides can impact the entire colony. SBBA urges Santa Barbara community members to please speak with your gardener, pest control company and anyone else that may use these products to make sure that they are being used properly. Commercial pesticides should only be applied by registered, licensed pesticide applicators. They should be applied carefully, according to the instructions on the label, and only as needed, avoiding applying them to blooming plants and at times when pollinators are active. "Working together, we can reduce both our own exposures to pesticides, and also the honeybee's, so that she may continue to help us feed the planet," says SBBA Vice President, Todd Bebb.

SBBA Mission Statement

The Santa Barbara Beekeeper's Association is dedicated to the promotion and advancement of beekeeping through best management practices, the education and mentoring of people about honey bees and beekeeping, and increasing public awareness of environmental concerns affecting honey bees.

If you have questions about bees or beekeeping, please contact SBBA. If you would like to help SBBA, a 501(c)3, fulfill its mission, please consider a donation: www.sbba.org.

Links:

Learn more about how to reduce bee poisoning from pesticides, from Oregon State University Extension:

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/pnw/pnw591.pdf

Find out if your pesticide applicator is registered and licensed in the state of California:

http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/license/currlic.htm

Learn more from the National Pesticide Information Center:

http://npic.orst.edu/ingred/aifact.html

Explore recent research linking pesticides to declines in honey bee health:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0009754

For more information on the Santa Barbara Beekeepers Association:

http://www.sbba.org

 

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