Honeybees have more pesticide protection than wild bees

Unfortunately those who keep and work with honeybees, and those who work with wild bees sometimes become such strong advocates that they divide into warring camps, when they have so much in common that they should be working together.

Honeybees have an industry organized around them; wild bees have some support groups, but they tend to be small. But the bees have very similar needs of habitat, parasites and pests problems, and especially pesticide practices of their forage areas.

I received a very strong objection from a wild bee advocate, to my statement that honeybees have more protection than wild bees. The advocate pointed out the various groups that have arisen to help protect the wild bees.

Because it was a private e-mail, I cannot post that person’s comments here, but perhaps I was not sufficiently specific in my statement, so I will post  a clarification: I’ve found that anyone who works in a public job (research, extension) is highly reluctant to take on pesticide misuse (job security perhaps?).  And the pesticide cops here in SC, very pointedly exclude wild bees from pesticide label protection.

On the other hand, beekeepers like myself have been active and vocal in trying to get enforcement of label directions. Any time there are crops or weeds in bloom in an application area, bees (of all kinds) are at risk, and the pesticide labels have specific instructions to not apply when bees will be damaged by the contamination of their food supply.

Agricultural advisors such as extension, and the pesticide cops themselves, usually do not base their bee protection advice on the pesticide labels.

Instead they suggest a “run-around” (ie. notify beekeepers) that enables pesticide users to evade the label directions – and offers NO protection at all for wild bees.

Ask any serious beekeeper, and he will tell you of times when his beehives were knocked out of productive service by a pesticide applied in violation of the label (whether or not he or she was notified of the application). Sometimes the entire field force of a hive is wiped out. Other times the adults do not die, but bring long lasting poisoned pollen back to be stored away in the hives, then fed to the young during the winter when the hives are extremely vulnerable, due to lack of fresh clean pollen being foraged. Thus a summer poison can kill a hive months later.

Now honeybee hives that had damage usually get the keeper’s best efforts at salvage/recovery, including feeding, removal of contaminated frames of pollen, and sometimes combining two or more hives – better one hive surviving, than two or more weak ones dying over the winter.

Wild bees get none of this help. If the adult bee is poisoned and dies, there will be no more nest building. If it carries contaminated pollen back to provision its young, the young will die, and there will be no next generation.

I am sure you understand that I am glad that wild bees are getting more, attention, and thus may be getting more protection. But all it takes is one severe “hit” at the wrong time to do some serious damage to a species in the area.

And I think you’ll agree that it’s easier (albeit expensive) to replace lost honeybees than to replace lost wild bees when they are destroyed.

That is why wild bee advocates and honeybee advocates need to join together. Whenever there is sloppy, careless pesticide applications that do not take the bee protection label instructions seriously, BOTH wild and domestic bees will suffer, but the wild bees will probably suffer more.

Note: A flow chart that organizes label directions to protect bees can be found at:  http://pollinator.com/pesticides/flowchart.htm


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