I spent several years in my early twenties traveling on the West Coast sowing a few wild oats. The songs that accompanied my travels were often made up of powerful messages shedding light on social events that had run amok. The Vietnam War was raging, civil rights struggles were blazing and the songs drew us all together to highlight a common cause. If John Lennon was still writing songs today, I think he might be saying…. Let’s, give bees a chance….
According to leading biologists, we are in the midst of one of largest mass extinction of species ever recorded. We sit precariously on the edge of a changing world where many plants and animals are disappearing. Indeed bees and pollinators are especially in big trouble. Colony collapse syndrome has claimed hives all over the world; some note a decline of 30 percent each year. Bee health is imperative to the survival of humanity because seventy of the one hundred most important crops needed to feed the world are pollinated by bees! Now that isn’t exactly something to sing about, but awareness needs to rise quickly around the issue.
The federal government is very concerned and recently Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA would provide $4 million for a Honey Bee Habitat. He indicated that “The future of America’s food supply depends on honey bees, and honeybees play ‘an important role’ in crop production, pollinating about $15 billion worth of crops each year.” This funding is focusing on conservation efforts in five Midwestern states: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, where habitat has been lost to over spraying herbicides such as Round Up. Where once acres of milkweed and other native plants flourished, now only barren roadsides and mono-cropped fields are the landscape. Honeybees and pollinators no longer have a place to eat, procreate and live in the Midwest.
Habitat is not the the only issue plaguing our buzzing buddies. There lies a host of problems affecting honey bee health. There are issues with bee nutrition as the climate changes. New pathogens and parasites have done their damage. The effects of pesticide exposure are enormous and clearly under-studied and underestimated. Watch this alarming 27 Minute movie on Neonics, dubbed “THE “NEW DDT”. Neonics are the most widely used insecticides in the world and are directly linked to colony collapse.
The interactions between each of these factors: nutrition, climate change, pathogens pesticides, and parasites, along with loss of habitat, are all serving lethal blows to the bee communities around the world. To learn more you can watch Vanishing of the Bees, a compelling documentary that describes the crisis of disappearing and dying honey bees.
There are organizations making headway communicating the importance of protecting our pollinators. These four organizations are providing great leadership and are worthy of your participation and financial support: Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
An effective thing to do to give bees a chance is to take the pledge to provide a Honeybee Haven! There are four basic and simple principles:
Protect bees from pesticides. Always purchase organic food and textiles! When gardening, use only organic methods such as compost for healthy soil and controlling pests with homemade remedies and bio-controls like ladybugs. Many home and garden products contain Neonics! Read labels!
Provide a variety of food for bees. Consider clustered plantings with staggered blooming times so there is food throughout the year and particularly in the late summer and fall. Native plants are always best and inter-planting and hedgerows provide additional forage on farms.
Provide a year-round, clean source of water for bees. This can be a river, pond, irrigation system, rainwater collection system or small-scale garden water features. Shallow water sources can provide more than enough water for bees, without creating opportunities for mosquitoes to breed.
Provide shelter for bees. Leave some ground undisturbed and untilled and some dead trees and plants on the property for wild bees to nest in.
It is imperative that we all realize the severity and importance of this issue. A collapse of the biodiversity of bees and other pollinators will have a devastating effect on our food supply and on our ability to feed the world. Let’s use the coming of the winter solstice to plan our action to Give Bees a Chance. Our future just may depend on it!