Concern over honeybee population decline continues

Insect-driven pollination is necessary for the sustainability of many crops that make their way into our favorite dishes every day. A significant loss of pollinators like honeybees over the past few decades has got the attention of everyone from farmers to the White House, which recently released a report outlining the issue.

Problems such as loss of natural forage, mite infestations and diseases, a loss of genetic diversity, herbicide and pesticide use, and a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder are cited as some of the sources of decrease in bee populations.

Here in the Upper Peninsula, local beekeepers have experienced extreme losses due to the harsh winter. While the White House report shows this year’s national average of winter loss to be a little over 23%, one Marquette County beekeeper lost 90% of his bees.

“Bees are always kind of weak as they come out of the winter,” said Skandia beekeeper Joel Lantz. “These hives here behind me are usually buried in snow, and you have to dig down into them in March and April. This year, though, towards the beginning of March, we had March 1st, 21 below, March 2nd, 31 below, and then 21 below on the 3rd. That took the remainder of the bees, pretty much, except the one hive. Too many cold days in a row.”

Despite the mass loss of hives due to weather conditions, Lantz says that due to an increase in the number of beekeepers in Marquette County during the last decade, pollination in the area has exploded. There are things residents can do to keep it that way.

“The old figure is: one out of every three people is alive today because of bees,” Lantz added. “No bees, you don’t eat, one out of three people, and so they’re really important and we all need to watch out for bees. The average person out there in this county, to help bees: be really careful when you’re using herbicides, pesticides. It ends up in hives and doesn’t do bees any good.”

The White House report says honey bees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy through their natural assistance with fruit, nut, and vegetable crops. The President’s 2015 Budget recommends allocating $50 million across multiple agencies within the USDA to address the loss of bees and other pollinators.

One of the largest sources of pollen for Michigan bees is a colorful plant species that is invasive to the Upper Peninsula. The Michigan DNR has said on its website that spotted knapweed has become a serious problem in some wetlands and natural areas.

The DNR and Michigan State University have called it one of the most serious invasive plants in North America. In 2010, the Marquette County Conservation District placed it on a list of the county’s top ten invasive plants.

Spotted knapweed is a purplish flower that can be found anywhere, even in your backyard. Like other invasive plants, it can take over an area and make it uninhabitable for native plants.

Spotted knapweed also produces toxins that can irritate the skin of humans and animals.