Bee colony collapse the subject of Colorado Mountain College talk in Summit
Special to the Daily
Bees are one of nature’s most under-appreciated organisms, often just looked at as a pest with a painful sting. The Sierra Club Blue River Group held a “Protect Our Pollinators” event on Wednesday, May 28, at Colorado Mountain College that punctured that complacency, highlighting what a crucial part of our ecosystem bees really are.
University of Colorado-Boulder professor Rebecca Dickson led the discussion, providing her perspective on why bee populations have been declining throughout the world. Dickson started her speech by quoting a statistic from Bee Informed Partnership, that says the average American beekeeper is currently losing 42 percent of their hives each year. This is a drastic increase from the average of 5 percent loss in decades previous.
Bees are an important part of the ecosystem because they pollinate flowers, providing a food source for a variety of animals. Pollination also provides significantly better plant yields for farmers and gardeners. Dickson and scientists say that bee populations are being decimated by overuse of herbicides and pesticides.
“Pesticides and herbicides hurt the physiology of the bees. Some companies claim their product doesn’t affect pollen so it doesn’t affect bees, but this isn’t true. Systemic pesticides get inside of, and take over the whole plant,” said Dickson.
A more specific problem that Dickson also mentioned is neonicitnoids. These are a particular kind of insecticide that not only get inside a plant, but also infect the water and soil around it.
“Neonicitnoids will sometimes stay in the ground for as long as 20 years after being used. Fifty-one percent of all plants have been infiltrated with neonics,” said Dickson.
According to a study performed in the journal “Nature,” neonics negatively affect colony size and growth of bees, as well as other pollinators in the ecosystem. Neonics have not officially been connected to the death of bees but many believe they weaken their immune systems.
“Asking your local congresspeople to study these issues shows them that this matters to their constituents. It’s the best way that the people of Summit County can help the bees,” said Dickson.
It may seem hard to believe with Summit’s high elevation, but a sizable bee population does live in the county. Even more bees live around Leadville, which has a bee-related issue of its own.
Members of the Blue River Group say the town is planning a large-scale pesticide spray. The group plans to send a video of Dickson’s speech to Leadville in the hope that it will dissuade the town from using the spray.
Dickson also stressed that there are steps the public can take individually to help the bees. In Boulder, Dickson and her community organized a group called “Bee Safe Boulder.” Throughout Boulder, the group raised awareness of possible harmful effects from the use of herbicides and pesticides on bees. They also got certain local businesses to only sell neonicitnoid-free plants.
Dickson’s presentation was followed by a lengthy Q&A session afterwards.
“The Blue River Group was looking for a timely event that people care about, and this was certainly it,” said group chair Kent Abernethy.
“I thought it was an absolutely wonderful presentation,” said local beekeeper Larry Gilliland. “However I do believe this is a very complicated situation and pesticides aren’t the only reason behind this bee epidemic. The community needs to be aware because there are larger issues at stake here.”
Many scientists speculate that global warming and loss of habitat are other key reasons for the bees’ decline.
Although there have been strong preliminary results found for a variety of potential causes, more long-term testing needs to be done before any laws and regulations can be made on behalf of the bees.
“Bees are like the canary in the coal mine; chemicals and antibiotics can be very helpful in our lives, but bees are now telling humans they’ve gone too far,” said Dickson.
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