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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.


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


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


Learn more from the National Pesticide Information Center:


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


For more information on the Santa Barbara Beekeepers Association:


Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 368997 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 11:06 AM

Pesticides are horrible. Thanks for sharing this sad news. It's time for citizens and commercial farmers to treat Mother Earth with respect.


 PURPLERIDER agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 11:22 AM

997, seconded.


 COMMENT 369003 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 11:22 AM

Am I correct in guessing that the most intensive use of pesticides locally in proximity to bees would be in the orchards?

Golf courses use all kinds of chemicals -- probably related to the steep increase in prostate cancer in men -- but commercial bee hives are placed in and near the orchards to pollinate the fruit and would be exposed in those areas.

The net effect is that non-organic growers will kill off the species they rely upon to produce their fruits. Scary that this will also collapse the foods we need and ripple through the food web.


 COMMENT 369005P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 11:24 AM

Petition to save the bees:



 COMMENT 369023 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 12:00 PM

Makes me wonder how many chemicals are in honey we consume? Golf courses, orchards and irresponsible gardeners and lazy home owners, that's quite a cocktail.


 COMMENT 369029 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 12:27 PM

a pretty serious barometer of what is happening in the area. if it is specifically in Montecito, the planning commission or whoever should take heed


 COMMENT 369034 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 12:31 PM

I don't use any pesticides at my house, so hopefully I am not part of this problem. Don't play golf. Buy my veggies and fruit from the Farmer's Markets. The bees like some of my plants, I am glad to see them when they come visit.


 COMMENT 369039 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 12:35 PM

When the bees go extinct we will all be eating Soylent Green to survive...


 COMMENT 369046 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 12:54 PM

People still use pesticides? Or is it just the farmers and golf courses. I grew up with Hippy parents and have never used them in my gardens. Just one more reason not to.


 COMMENT 369088 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 02:27 PM

Thankfully it's not those tiny little micro-cellphone sites that Montecitoians have been moaning about. Turns out it's the chemical pesticides washing all around them. Now there's something to worry about!


 EDDIEKD agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 03:02 PM

Can anyone suggest a link to a one page, simplified flyer type sheet on this terrible threat to bees? I'd be happy to distribute door to door in my neighborhood. It would be great to have a user-friendly brochure. Also presentations at all the garden centers would be super and they could inform customers with a flyer in every bag/on every plant, too. Customers should pressure stores not to carry the worst products, maybe? If not they get rated low! Sort of like the way cruelty free make-up became fashionable 20 years ago.
I truly believe people just need to learn and their habits can change. At least around here.


 COMMENT 369144 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 04:04 PM

I doubt whether people who employ a gardener have any idea what pesticides are used in their landscape. When we had a gardener we were very adamant that he not spray any pesticides or weed killers in our landscape. Yes, it is more work to pull the weeds, but it is safer for your family and of course the creatures we depend on, like our honeybees.

I know that sometimes there is aerial spraying of the orchards in the Montecito area, this could be one of the problems.


 COMMENT 369159P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 04:28 PM

Avocado orchards? They use a lot of miticides.

Most deciduous fruit trees get a sulfur & oil combo spray when dormant, but most home owners aren't applying pesticides when trees bloom.

What would have been applied to polo grounds, golf courses, avos in fall?

Golf courses are nortoiously high users of fungicides, some of the most toxic of the pesticides.


 COMMENT 369224 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 06:48 PM

I know for a fact that many gardeners use pesticides and rodenticides, particularly on large estates in Montecito, but also on smaller properties. Many owners don't pay attention. If you use gardeners, landscapers, pest control companies, or housecleaning services, please take an active role in directing them to use safe, non-toxic materials.


 COMMENT 369266P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-31 01:36 AM

My experience has been that most people employing yard maintenance crews (the majority of these crews know next to nothing about real gardening) are either completely ignorant of products used to maintain their landscapes OR they look the other way, fearing to offend these outfits and/or cause any kind of fee increase.

This is very disheartening. I have told owners that their yard maintenance crews are poisoning the environment, and have usually garnered a ho-hum response.

One tip I would like to pass along is this: The County Agriculture Department is great about responding to reports of pesticide misuse. If you see anyone spraying the parkway area (in City or County)---that strip of land between sidewalk and curb----that is public property. If the guy spraying the parkway isn't wearing proper protective equipment (mask, gloves, suit---this is all so wrong!!!), you know this person has NO PERMIT for what he is doing. Call and report him. Mark down license # of vehicle, vehicle description, address, date and time. Be sure and give description of individual disseminating these toxins.

We must all work together to protect ourselves, our children, the bees, butterflies, birds & lizards. Protect the planet.

These pesticides only came into use during WWII and after. Why can't we stop poisoning everything and get smart about our food and lawns and landscaping?


 COMMENT 369283 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-31 07:02 AM

Clover, often found in lawns, is attractive to bees. Avocados should be blooming now, not in the fall when die off occurred. I'd be interested to know how localized the die off was and if bees had common food source.

Have you noticed the Ceanothus blooming in the hills. Really floriferous this year. Stand next to a bush and feel the buzzing of the bees!


 COMMENT 369285 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-31 07:07 AM

VANITY! The rich are so concerned that an insect might enter their rarefied spaces that they live in a toxic wasteland. Lovely, but toxic. The pest services are on contracted schedules of spraying "for bugs" inside and out; in homes and at schools. They tried to blame the MU cancer cluster on the Edison sub-station, but I'll bet it was pesticides.
I was so sad to see my Montecito clients had called Clark Pest control for a swarm of bees in a tree. They sprayed high pressure insecticide at the bee mass and all over the yard. Completely unneeded devastation and spread of toxics. The thin veneer of ostentation is peeling inexorably.


 COMMENT 369292P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-31 07:12 AM

023 Now you have me worried; hadn't thought about pesticides in honey. Don't know why since I buy organic veggies and fruit....


 COMMENT 369325 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-31 07:57 AM

@283: 'FLORIFEROUS' Thanks for improving my vocabulary


 COMMENT 369326 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-31 07:57 AM

I wonder what the rates of birth defects and cognitive impairments are for children of landscape maintenance workers who are using these poisons all over town on a daily basis? No one really tracks public health issues to pin these obvious sources down.


 COMMENT 369354 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-31 08:43 AM

If there are no bees there will be no food. At least we'll go down with the most beautiful private gardens in history. Until there are no bees to pollenate and the gardens never grow back. Then we'll be both starving and grey.

Sadly, people hire gardeners to grow beautiful flowers without asking how or why. It's all blind desire. Man does such a fantastic job of setting up the eradication of man that we've got few decades left. We're 7 billion strong and growing exponentially. A 3% world population scale doubles the size every 22 years. We're cracking the threasholds of sustainability today... Wait a generation and then what. In 44 years we'll be at 28 billion? The world will not make it. There has to be a correction. EVERYTHING in life receeds to the mean.


 COMMENT 369362 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-31 08:56 AM

I heard that cell phone towers were causing the bees to die off. Have any new ones been installed lately in Montecito?


 COMMENT 369387 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-31 10:31 AM

When will everyone wake up and not fall back asleep. We have fowled our nest long ago. Our entire food supply is toxic and contaminated. Buying organic is not enough when remaining passive for market based solutions.

It is nonsense that we ever got to this place and must continue in destroying this planet.

Other civilizations on this planet and throughout the universe created and grew their civilization without relying upon pollution and toxins.

We are just very very dumb and self centered upon profit and gain taking every shortcut possible for the quick and nearsighted solution.

One day we will align and work with nature rather then oppose nature.


 COMMENT 369393 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-31 10:50 AM

@387 If you fowl your nest, you add birds.
If you foul your nest, you add pollutants.


 COMMENT 369425 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-31 11:33 AM

@387 wisest words I've ever read on Edhat!

We are a dumb species and the only way out of it is for people to realize (individually) that the earth is our sole life source - water, trees (air), soil, plants and animals, minerals.

There is no other thing out there to discover -- we're here only because of earth. Earth/nature is the only thing that is appropriate to worship. How could it be less than glaringly self-evident?


 CORKY agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-31 12:20 PM

387 "Fowled our nest." That's a good one.


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