Who is Killing Nature's Precious Bees?

How important are bees? One-third of the food we eat comes from crops that need animal pollinators. "Without the services of managed honeybees, provided by migratory beekeepers, billions of dollars' worth of crops across the United States would fail." Unfortunately, as we pointed out before, there was a there was a 57% decline in bee colonies in the US between 1985 and 1997. One of the things responsible for that decline is the use of pesticides by farmers in their fields and by consumers around their homes and gardens.Here's a preview of what might happen if we don't start taking better care of bees:

American agriculture is addicted to honeybees -- and in the past few years has begun to run short of them. Anderson's spring starts in February, when the almonds in California's Central Valley come into bloom. California has more than 580,000 acres planted in almonds, though commercial beekeepers living full-time in the state hold enough bee colonies to pollinate only about half that acreage.

In the spring of 2005, many of the migratory beekeepers who work the California almond bloom discovered that their colonies had suffered heavy losses during the winter. [...] The result was a pollinator panic in the Central Valley. [...] Beekeepers traveled from as far away as Florida and North Carolina to service California's almond groves. For the first time in 50 years, U.S. borders were opened to honeybees from New Zealand and Australia. The fate of a $1.2 billion crop -- more than half of all almond production worldwide -- rested on the slender back of the embattled honeybee. [...]

In the long run, our own survival is deeply entwined with the lives of bees. And the bees' survival depends on the ways we manage not only rural farms, but also city parks and gardens and the landscape of suburban America, where native bees can survive in even small patches of habitat, such as native shrubs and plants. "There's an economic benefit to taking care of native bees," says Thorp. "But until people understand this, they won't spend time and effort on it."


August 2006 is the deadline for the US Food Quality Protection Act passed in 1996 by congress (thanks to the NRDC, among others). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has to reassess the safety of all pesticides now on the market. Unfortunately, the EPA is keeping on the market very dangerous broad spectrum insecticides like carbaryl (known as Sevin).

About 3.9 million pounds of carbaryl are sold annually in the U.S. for agriculture, lawns, and gardens. Carbaryl is classified as likely to cause cancer in humans, and is known to cause nausea, dizziness, and even respiratory paralysis and death in extreme cases. It is harmful to wildlife and highly toxic to bees and aquatic wildlife, including Atlantic salmon. It has been implicated in numerous worker poisonings, bee-kills, and fish-kills, and is one of the most common pesticide pollutants in rivers and streams. Carbaryl is also a serious risk for endangered species; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated that continued use of carbaryl may endanger more than 80 wildlife species. Because of these and other related risks posed by carbaryl -- and given the availability of less toxic alternatives -- NRDC in 2005 led a coalition of public interest groups who petitioned the EPA to eliminate its use; EPA has not yet responded to this request.

We must reconsider our approach to agriculture fast before more irreparable damage is caused. Brute force doesn't work for long; what farmers consider "pests" are killed along with nature's most useful workers, but the poison doesn't disappear after doing that, it stays in the food chain for a long time. ::The Vanishing, ::Unexpected Haven for Bees. See also: ::Please Sign This NRDC Petition, ::Video: NRDC TV - South by Southwest, ::TreeHuggerTV: NRDC Does Bonnaroo, ::NRDC: Shopper's Guide for Paper Products, ::Blue Whale Nursery in Patagonia's Golfo Corcovado

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