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As bees vanish, food supply is threatened
by Adam Chodak
Hamlin, N.Y. -- For Jim Doan, honeybees have provided so much more than honey.
I wouldnt say theyre perfect, but theyre pretty darn close to it, Doan said, standing beside seasoned wood pallets once used as the foundation for beehives.
Doans father gave him his first hive of bees.
The childhood hobby grew into a livelihood.
At one point, I was running 5,300 hives of bees here in Western New York, Doan said.
That success was not to last.
On a cold day in 2006, Doan took the short walk from the back of his house in Hamlin to check on his hives.
The bees had simply disappeared from the hives, he said. I took a 90% loss in bees that year.
What Doan had hoped was an anomaly became a trend.
We struggled for 7 years trying to make up bees, Doan said.
The business that once produced 85 to 120 pounds of honey per hive was trying to survive on 10 to 15.
We have never experienced anything like this, Doan said. Our losses are just tremendous.
It wasnt long after that first disastrous year, Doan got calls from beekeepers from around the country.
Its everyone, theres no one exempt from this problem, Doan said.
Honeybees are dying, or simply vanishing, at an alarming rate, coast to coast.
The phenomenon has been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, and it has terrified farmers and apiarists alike.
Theres really not an easy substitute for what bees do, said Bob King, senior agriculture specialist at Monroe Community College.
Honeybees are free labor.
Honeybees have been the backbone of pollination here in Rochester and around the world, King said.
According to government studies, one third of our food is directly linked the pollination by insects.
King says the population drop usually occurs in the winter, which makes what has happened in the past six months all the more troubling.
In this situation, what were experiencing is the bees are gradually dwindling during the summer months until eventually theres no bees in the hive, King said.
So what is killing the bees?
Doan blames neonicotinoid pesticides, which are used on farms and home gardens.
In bees cases, it attacks the ends of their nerves, Doan claimed.
King says the jury is still out on pesticides and suggests the possibility CCD could be the result of a perfect storm.
Whether its malnutrition, whether its the disease-causing organisms or the pesticides or theres an interaction effect thats going on there, King said.
Whatever the cause, King says people can potentially help by not using the suspect pesticides.
Homeowners can try to tolerate bees and try to provide forage for bees, King said. You dont have to be killing off your dandelion or your clover; they are an important forage for bees.
Doans suggestion goes a step further.
We need the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to put a ban on them until the studies are completed, Doan argued.
Doan now has the time to concentrate on this cause.
What was once a livelihood is now, once again, a hobby.
He recently sold his farm and those wood pallets may soon fuel a spectacular bonfire.
Im not happy about it, but the time for tears is pretty much over with, he said.