Our Opinion: Bees, beekeepers share a mission
Many Berkshire residents may remember when fireflies, or lightning bugs, were plentiful and lit up the night with their flashes. While they are still with us, their numbers have been much reduced. That's a loss, but if bees follow that path the loss could be a significantly greater one.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are 4,000 native bee species in the country and they pollinate about 75 percent of our fruits, nuts and vegetables. They are critical to our food supply, and when their numbers are declining, as they currently are, our fate becomes linked to their fate.
Although the hazards of pesticides and herbicides are better known then when they, along with over-development and light pollution, took their toll on fireflies, they continue to make inroads into the bee population, according to the USDA. Predators like mites afflict bees, and the loss of foraging space is a serious problem for bees, as much of the country, including the bucolic Berkshires, surrender open land to development.
Ignorance is a factor as well. In a letter to the editor Wednesday, Richard Clapper, a beekeeper from Peru, wrote about being called to Canoe Meadows to deal with a plastic bag filled with an estimated 10,000 honeybees, most of them dead or dying. This is the time of year when bees swarm, and Mr. Clapper speculated that a swarm was dumped into the bag and "tossed away as garbage."
It is dispiriting that thousands of bees were dispatched before they could accomplish their good work this summer and it is doubly dispiriting that it was so unnecessary. The Berkshires have many beekeepers (including former governor and long-time Richmond resident Deval Patrick), and as Mr. Clapper pointed out, there are any number of beekeepers in the Berkshires who would have been pleased to add the swarm at Canoe Meadows to their hives if contacted. The Peru beekeeper mentioned the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association and the Berkshire County Beekeepers and the Beekeepers of Southern Berkshire are also available to help or provide information and all have a presence on the web.
Last summer, 150,000 bees living in an empty house in Lanesborough were rescued when demolition workers from Donovan Construction in Pittsfield contacted SwarmBusters of Williamstown. Beekeeper Barbara Couture and two helpers captured the bees and introduced them to hives kept by the organization. Mike Maloy of Donovan Construction told The Eagle that he and his workers decided to stop their demolition work and find a way to save the bees because "everybody has information nowadays about how we need bees and they're increasingly rare."
That is the message that must get out. Berkshires residents can make life easier for bees by planting flowers and by mowing their lawns less often. Yes, bees are capable of stinging, but they are not as aggressive as wasps and are unlikely to sting unless provoked.
Basically, bees just want to busily go about their business. And as pollinators of our food supply, their business is our business. In the Berkshires, those who practice the art and science of beekeeping often sell honey, which places bees into the context of the farm-to-table and organic farming movement in the Berkshires.
We should help bees when we can, and rather than get spooked by the sight of a swarm or a hive, it is best to contact experts who have bees' best interests in mind and the knowledge needed to protect them.
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