Honey bees have the perfect self-governing system. All the bees gladly subjugate themselves to an omnipotent queen. When a queen falters, the members of the colony rally together to produce a new queen. Every action a honey bee takes from the moment of birth until the moment of death is done for the good of the colony. Honey bees are sophisticated, selfless creatures. Humans occupy a higher rung on the taxonomy chart, but in my opinion, it is the honey bee that is more virtuous. For this reason, I become annoyed when honey bees are used for political purposes and that is what happened this month.
The USDA announced that they are discontinuing the tracking of honey bee colony losses. In previous years, colony numbers (and losses) were tracked on a state by state basis and reported in the Honey Bee Colonies Report. Here is a portion of the notice published on the USDA’s website:
“Before deciding to suspend data collection, NASS reviewed its estimating programs against mission- and user-based criteria as well as the amount of time remaining in the fiscal year to meet its budget and program requirements while maintaining the strongest data in service to U.S. agriculture. The decision to suspend data collection was not made lightly but was necessary given available fiscal and program resources. NASS will continue to review its federal agricultural statistical programs using the same criteria to ensure timely, accurate, and useful statistics.”
Politicians who oppose the current administration were quick to seize upon the news making inflammatory claims about their political opponents. I saw similar posts in my social media news feed as arm chair environmentalists expressed their anger. This beekeeper also has some thoughts to share:
- The data collection could (and maybe should) be picked up by third party, non-profit organizations. The Bee Informed Partnership is a non-profit group that already exists and has been working with USDA to collect this data. In my experience, groups outside of the federal government are frequently more efficient and effective at getting things done.
- The government is deep in debt. Cuts have to be made somewhere. You can argue about where cuts should be made and how the government sets its priorities. One fact that no rational person can dispute is that the government spends more than the revenue it generates.
- Honey bees are not going extinct. People hear on the news about the declining number of honey bee colonies and draw the conclusion that the honey bees are near extinction. They absolutely are not. You can’t buy endangered species on line, but you can definitely order a 5 lb package of bees on line. Honey bees are vital to modern agriculture, and that is why the rate of colony loss is concerning. Honey bees also are indicators of the overall health of the environment, which is important for other pollinators that are endangered (e.g. he Rusty Patched Bumble Bee).
- It is easier to express outrage on social media than to actually work to be part of the solution. Concerned citizens can take many concrete actions to help the plight of pollinators, but it may require sacrifice and inconvenience. Here are a few examples:
- Pay top dollar for local honey. One of the biggest factors hurting commercial beekeepers is the cheap, adulterated honey flowing into this country and depressing prices to the point where beekeeping is no longer economically viable.
- Stop mowing your yard so much. Better yet, rip out your yard and plant the entire thing in wildflowers. Bees need more than just one or two bee friendly plants in your landscape. They need constant nutrition from spring into late fall.
- Stop expecting all businesses, neighbors, and other landowners to keep boarders and ride of ways mowed like lawns. Where I live, people are expected to mow every inch of their property. Re think what makes for a beautiful lawn, and then work to educate your homeowners’ association.
- Stop consuming so much. – Be willing to live a “smaller” life buying less stuff, consuming less processed food, driving and traveling less, and deciding to live in smaller homes that take up less land. Loss of habitat is a huge problem for bees, and we all play a role in that.
- Work with non profit environmental groups that have a track record of success.
Earlier this year I wrote about my take on the Green New Deal and how I thought it impacted the honey bee. Environmental issues are complex, and people frequently want “someone” to do “something” as long as that “something” doesn’t impact a person’s daily life too much. We are now the “someones” who have to do “something.” It is this beekeepers’ opinion that you cannot become outraged by the actions of others if you have not first held yourself accountable for the actions that are within your control.
Hive update: All 8 colonies have queens now! Things are looking good in the apiary, and we are optimistic that we will be able to take all 8 colonies into fall. We get a an autumn honey flow in Kentucky when the golden rods and asters bloom, so that gives us more time to bulk up the bees before winter. Next week we will perform varroa mite checks, so look for a post about that soon.