Keeping the Bee in Business

Beekeeper Survey Postponed to Next Year

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The WSDA Polinator Health Task Force beekeeper survey was postponed to early next year. There were still disagreements on how to phrase the survey fairly so it doesn’t sound one-sided and advocate for results positive for the pesticide industry and bad for beekeepers. I have been cut out of this process. Dr. Tim Lawrence of WSU Extension will be assisting on the survey design now. He understands the issues at hand and I hope the survey, when released next year, is even-handed, although even Dr. Lawrence doesn’t have the final say.

In the task force, native pollinator advocates (Xerces, WDFW, native bee husbandry people) believe honey bees are an invasive species and will transmit viruses/diseases to native pollinators, especially bumblebees, and will outcompete natives if allowed in the same range. They want to restrict beekeeper access to public lands, similar to the current petition Xerces submitted to USFS to restrict honey bees from forest service land. There’s not a lot of beekeepers who place hives on public land currently, but for them, it’s a large part of the management program to remove hives from agricultural areas and the pesticides and allow them to find clean forage. They claim it’s settled science that their complaints are certain; other scientists say is it’s not. The Logan USDA bee lab is 2 years into a 3 year study on this topic, and I understand Marla Spivak’s University of Minnesota bee lab is also looking into this issue. I’m trying to keep beekeeper access to these lands and offered compromise language but it was not accepted.

There are pesticide user and pesticide manufacturer advocates in the task force opposing any restrictions on pesticide use. Powerful and well-funded interest groups with seasoned and aggressive lobbyists are looking for opportunities to blame beekeepers for heavy hive losses and deflect responsibility away from pesticides. There was a proposal by the native pollinator people to study pesticide residues in the environment, and the pesticide advocates pushed to have the study include the insides of beehives, specifically to include beekeeper-applied miticides. Not that all beekeepers are as careful as they should be about that, but I believe pesticide advocates see this as an opportunity to deflect blame for poor hive health from those who use pesticides.

Pesticide advocates also promote apiary location registration as a way to “protect” honey bees. Such a system would put all the burden on beekeepers to protect hives from chemicals. The nature of pollination in Washington is such that it’s completely unworkable, as hives are scattered widely, often not even by the beekeeper, and may be stationary for only a few days. For the pesticide applicators, such a rule, voluntary or not, would make it simple to avoid responsibility for killing bees. Currently, growers and applicators talk directly with beekeepers when a pesticide application needs to be done and accomodations are made. This hive location registration proposal would allow applicators to send an automated message and spray, whether the beekeeper is able or not to move the bees. If there is a substantial bee kill, the only recourse is for a beekeeper to sue. In court, the applicator shows their record of using the automated database to inform and puts the blame on the beekeeper for not getting out of the way. This plan is also being advocated as a protection for small scale/backyard beekeepers too, which is ridiculous on the face of it. There is no registry for urban backyards where children play, no registry of swimming pools or jacuzzis where people relax, or urban registries of flower or vegetable gardens or fruit trees or other such pesticide-sensitive sites. Pesticide lobbyists say that pesticide applicators in urban settings are professionals who use the utmost caution to protect neighbors outside the intended application area, and I believe it. Pesticide drift in such settings would expose the applicator to huge liability and be very dangerous to the public. To claim a hive location registry would change anything in how urban pesticide applications are currently done is a red herring meant to garner support of small-scale beekeepers for a proposal that would, in effect, harm those who pollinate agricultural crops and protect pesticide applicators.

There are good proposals for pollinators also, like increasing honey bee extension work at WSU and public education about pollinators, initiating a Washington bee atlas similar to that in Oregon to record pollinator abundance and locations, and requiring 25% of new state construction landscaping to be pollinator friendly. In the coming year, we will be advocating for more honey bee-specific research on Varroa at WSU. There is a proposal for a new State Apiary Inspector position also. It is uncertain if this would be a help or an unwanted oversight. If the right person is in the position, it could be great for beekeepers. On the other hand, local clubs are doing a great job educating beekeepers. With zoom meetings becoming common, access to beekeeping experts has never been better.

Please keep an eye out for the survey next year. If you have problems with the state/county/city in your beekeeping, or concerns I may be able to help with, please let me know.

Tim Hiatt