Ag Today December 16, 2016

Bee experts urge shake-up at Dominican University forum to promote proliferation of bees

By Adrian Rodriguez, Marin Independent Journal

POSTED: 12/15/16, 5:22 PM PST | UPDATED: 3 MINS AGO

Bees, left to their own devices, could survive diseases with minimal or no chemical treatment — and those bees could be bred to stimulate a diminishing population.

“In the U.S., typically we are losing 30, 40 percent of our beehives anyway, so what have we got to lose?” said Francis Ratnieks, a professor of apiculture at the University of Sussex.

The proposal was one of many “audacious” ideas conjured up by a new collaborative of bee experts who spoke at a panel Wednesday at Dominican University in San Rafael.

The inaugural Bee Audacious Conference, which included two days of workshops, culminated with the presentation of several new practices aimed at shaking up the status quo of beekeeping and farming to reverse a worsening epidemic in which, every winter, bee colonies are declining.

But the solution is a multi-pronged one that includes a diverse mix of bee management methods for beekeepers in rural settings, and to promote this, experts suggest forming a Bee Corps to function as an educational arm, and a National Pollinator Alliance to work the political front, advocating for the environment and conservation.

“I’ve got to tell you, there is only one way to make this change,” said Mark Winston, professor and senior fellow at Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue and a panelist. “Every one of you needs to find the one thing that you can do … if you have thousands of people across the country that find that one thing they can do, and all start doing it, it could build — that’s how movements happen.”

Winston wrote an editorial published in Bee Culture Magazine in 2015 that served as the impetus for the Bee Audacious movement, said Bonnie Morse, a San Rafael resident, owner of Bonnie Bee and Co. and project manager of the conference.

“Here we are 18 months later and we have people from six countries, and 24 states here in Marin, engaged in active dialogue on how we can come together and solve this problem,” she said.

So why is it a problem that bees are dying?

Bees pollinate plants that produce one-third of the food supply, including vegetables, fruits and nuts.

Bees are no longer healthy enough to respond with resilience and ecosystems are no longer sufficiently diverse for wild and managed bees to thrive.

The reason is that pesticides are ubiquitous, experts said. And disease and pests are rampant and the diversity of bee forage has plummeted.

The conference brought together a variety of minds to brainstorm ideas in small groups, with the purpose of figuring out how to promote healthy environments, maintain economic viability and keep organizations inclusive, collaborative and cooperative, Winston said.

The “thought leaders,” who were the panelists Wednesday, selected the best proposals.

Chaz Mraz of Champlain Valley Apiaries, a Vermont-based honey producer, was among the leaders.

“What we really lack that others have is a lobby,” he said. “We need to create a lobby that would advocate for habitat to stop the misuse and abuse of pesticides.”

Many in the audience were eager to participate, including members of the National Park Service and the Sierra Club.

Panelist Jim Frazier, professor emeritus of entomology at Penn State University, said the goal of the conference, which was to drum up as many “audacious and bold” ideas as possible, appears to have been achieved.

“The greatest voice of America is that of we the people,” he said. “It’s time that we roar.”

A full report on the conference is expected to be published in March.