Domesticated honey bees—not native to the US, but vital to our agriculture—are still suffering huge losses.
Some honey bee colonies are lost every year; this was standard even during better times for bees. But despite a decade of intense study to figure out and hopefully correct what’s going on with bees, a new survey reveals bad news: honey bee colony losses topped 40 percent this year, the worst in well over a decade.
Honey bees, though not actually native to North America, are bred and used extensively to pollinate crops, especially tree-born crops like fruits and nuts. That honey bee populations are dramatically down will not come as a surprise to any reader of this publication, nor, hopefully, anyone else. But you might hope that things are improving, and they are not.
The Bee Informed Partnership, a nonprofit associated with the University of Maryland, conducts surveys of beekeepers every year, and just released the results of their survey from April 2018 to April 2019. The annual loss was 40.7 percent, higher than last year, but the winter showed alarming drops of 37.7 percent, the most in 13 years.
Part of the reason for the continued decline of honey bees is a lack of action from governmental agencies. Contributing factors for struggles in honey bee colonies include the Varroa mite, pesticides, poor beekeeping practices, weather issues like fires and drought, and loss of habitat. NPR spoke to an agricultural professor who noted that the EPA has not taken aggressive enough action to dial back the use of pesticides linked to bee deaths. (In late May, the EPA did pull the registrations of 12 neonicotinoid pesticides due to issues with bee populations, but dozens of other neonicotinoids remain, and the pesticide makers are allowed to sell out their remaining stock.)
“The tools that used to work for beekeepers seem to be failing, and that may be evident in this year’s high losses,” said Karen Rennich of the Bee Informed Partnership in a press release.