Bees: Their Importance, Their Problems, and How You Can Help

Photo: Copyright David Rickless

Think about the animals that we try to protect.  Polar bears, seals, whales, elephants, and wolves are some of the creatures that conservation groups promote.  They are all integral members of the ecosystem, and we can’t help but appreciate their aesthetic value.

But is there a lower-profile, less charismatic creature that is just as important?

Every third bite of food that you eat is made possible by bees.  In fact, Einstein predicted that if bees went extinct,humans would follow suit four years later.  It would be hard to name many flora or fauna that are not connected to bees at some point in the food web.

Considering this, it would be reasonable to argue that, on an ecological scale, bees are one of the most important of all the species we protect — including Homo sapiens.

And bees are in trouble.

Part of the problem is industrial agriculture, which is harmful to native bees.  Chemical herbicides kill the plants that bees rely on for nectar and pollen when crop plants are not in bloom.  In addition, the consolidation of small farms into massive spreads means plowing under nesting areas.  Bees are not magical fairies that appear seasonally when needed; they must also survive on their own throughout the entire year.

The irony here is that agribusiness is trying to increase production by eliminating “pests.”  But in the process, it is eliminating natural pollinators, thereby severely damaging production.

What is the solution?  Hives of honeybees (which are not native to North America) must be placed in fields so that the crops will produce enough to be commercially viable.  So, honeybees are now migrant workers.

At the same time, beekeeping as a profession has declined, due to competition from cheap imported honey, so the remaining bees must work harder.  They are artificially roused from dormancy and trucked across the country.

The stress of transportation, along with fungi, malnutrition, and overuse of pesticides and antibiotics, is a possible cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD).  CCD is a phenomenon in which entire hives of bees simply disappear, and its cause is not yet known.

While Big Ag is causing trouble for bees, individuals also have an impact. In our efforts to turn a wilderness into a suburban paradise, we inadvertently kill the pollinators that make our very existence possible.

Here are some easy ways to make your yard bee-friendly:

  • Avoid using pesticides, and if you must use them, spray at night, when bees are less active.
  • Tolerate “weeds” such as dandelions and clover.
  • Choose bee-friendly plants.
  • Think before cutting dead wood; it can provide homes for bees.

Climate change also effects bees;  if there is not enough rain, flowers that bees depend on will not bloom.  Therefore, reducing your carbon footprint is another way to indirectly help bees.


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