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Survey: Another Year of Decline for Beekeepers' Colonies

Beekeepers' colonies have been in decline for the past decade, and a new federal survey says last year was no exception. (pixabay)
Beekeepers' colonies have been in decline for the past decade, and a new federal survey says last year was no exception. (pixabay)
May 13, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. - Both bees and beekeepers are feeling the sting as a new federal survey confirms that keepers lost 28 percent of their colonies last winter, after losses of 22 percent the previous year.

The survey results are in keeping with a larger trend that started a decade ago, when bee numbers began to fall dramatically. Dewey Caron, a beekeeping survey collector and affiliate professor of horticulture at Oregon State University, said the decrease in bees is in part because of the relatively new syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder.

"Doing an autopsy of the dead colonies, we saw a different series of characteristics," he said, "and it was different enough that we then coined a different term."

From April 2015 to March of this year, the survey said, 44 percent of bee colonies nationwide were lost. Conducted in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it included both large- and small-scale beekeeping operations. Caron said the Pacific Northwest results aren't back yet, but preliminary numbers are similar to the national trend.

There are a number of reasons for the losses, Caron said. Mites have become a big source of decline for bee colonies, and are the most likely culprit in the majority of survey cases. The use of pesticides is another persistent problem, and Caron said the growing numbers of backyard beekeepers are hobbyists, who face a steep learning curve managing bees for the first time.

"There's a lot of new individuals not getting the same messages on how to more effectively control the mite," he said, "for example, how to more effectively protect their bees from pesticide damage."

He said ineffective treatment against the mite can lead to its spread, creating a chain of collapse. The killer parasite also has had a severe effect on beekeepers' large-scale, income-producing operations.

The survey results are online at beeinformed.org.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR