Beekeepers buzz about new strategy to help save honey bees

Dana Hatchett, Alligator Staff Writer Jun 2, 2015

President Barack Obama and his administration are buzzing about a new plan to help increase the population of honey bees and other pollinators in the U.S.

On May 19, Obama’s administration announced the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.

According to the 64-page document released by the White House, the strategy’s three main goals are to reduce honey bee-colony losses to no more than 15 percent in the next 10 years, increase the population of Eastern monarch butterflies to about 225 million by 2020 and restore or enhance seven million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years.

William Kern, a UF professor in urban entomology at Ft. Lauderdale Research and Education Center, said he thinks the land set aside for pollinators will most likely be beneficial.

Kern said about 30 percent of bee colonies are lost during the winter, but losses are made up by shifts in management.

Over the last five years, colony numbers have remained consistent, Kern said.

“Beekeepers have changed their management style,” Kern said. “We are now managing our bees to have more colonies.”

Kern mentioned his concern with the plan sounding a bit too ambitious, saying there are many other causes of honey bee deaths outside of land loss, including deadly parasites, deadly viruses, poor nutrition and poor management from the farmer.

Chappie McChesney, founder of Alachua County Beekeepers Club, said the plan is too little, too late.

McChesney, a 70-year-old local beekeeper, critiqued the White House’s strategy.

“The government is mainly focusing on commercial bees,” McChesney said. “Local farmers won’t benefit from such a plan.”

McChesney, however, agreed with the White House’s plan of setting aside acres of land so that the bees have more room to forage.

Both Kern and McChesney have noticed the rise of the number of bees in Florida, and Kern said they are responsible for the majority of Florida’s agricultural production.

“Without them, we would only have the ability to grow few different kinds of crops like wheat, corn and rice, for example,” Kern said. “Most fruits and vegetables would not be available, and that would be concerning.”

Kern said that for commercial beekeepers, pesticides for controlling varroa mites in honeybees are necessary. If used correctly, Kern said, there should most likely be no problem.

McChesney, however, is a strong believer in banning the use of harmful pesticides in beekeeping because he strongly believes that it’s a major cause of mortality in honeybees. In his club meetings, he teaches new beekeepers chemical-free beekeeping.

He said the use of chemicals in farming is the government’s plan to keep the big pesticide companies in business.

“The truth is hidden under a pile of money,” McChesney said.


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