For those of you who don't know this, the honeybee hive is the state symbol for the US state of Utah.
Honeybees (Apis mellifera) were introduced to the USA—and Utah—by European immigrant settlers. Utah also has over 1,000 species of native bees and 1 of every 4 native bees in the USA can be found in Utah, which is known as the Beehive State.
Bees everywhere are challenged in our current times by a variety of threats, ranging from colony collapse disorder (CCD) to lack of wild flowers, to parasites and pests, fertilizers, pesticides, urbanization and so much more.
Right now, the native honeybees of Utah face a bigger risk. Millions of honeybees are trucked around the USA every spring by commercial beekeepers to pollinate vast agricultural fields of commercial almonds, cherries, apples and other commercial crops. The commercial beekeepers that own them are seeking a safe and wild place to “park” their bees during the summer, after they have finished their massive pollination contracts.
This 3:28-minute long video gives a fast overview of how life would look without bees:
These beekeepers plan to place millions of their commercial honeybees in the national forests of Utah, by obtaining permits to put their hives on public Bureau of Land Management lands, including national forests, for the summer months every year. This is one of the purest places they can find, pesticide-free and teeming with wild flowers for foraging. It is also an extremely cheap solution. It sounds like a great place for the tired honeybees, but it's bad for the native bee.
Even though many people assume that honeybees are beneficial in national forests, this is not the case. If you consider that each hive—or colony—houses 30,000 to 50,000 bees on average. This gives you an idea of how greatly they will outnumber the native and solitary bees, which live in small colonies.
There is only so much nectar and pollen to go around, even if these wild locations have plenty of flowers. These two bee foods are vital for the survival of native bees as well. Studies by Nature.com and Researchgate.net show that life becomes more difficult for native bees when they must compete with honeybees for food. Their reproduction rates suffer and raising their young becomes challenging.
Apart from the threat to the food supply of native bees such as bumblebees, they are also susceptible to many illnesses, parasites and pathogens that honeybees carry. So, if high density honeybee populations are moved to the public lands where native bees live, there will be a much larger likelihood of native bees contracting diseases from them. These native bees enjoy no federal protection from the pressures and competition honeybees can put on them. Around the world, their numbers are seriously in decline.
But potential problems double when you consider that native bees also contract diseases on their own, so honeybees may also become infected by diseases the native bees carry. This could have a major effect on the US honey industry and even on crop pollination on a bigger scale.
If the damage goes both ways, we could be in real trouble, with the native pollinator bee population and the honeybee population in decline at the same time. It seems allowing commercial honeybees to live on public land is unwise.
In Utah, the rare Western bumblebee was recently discovered in the Manti-La Sal National Forest (see 2:51-minute video of this magnificent land below). This is one of the places where commercial honeybee permits are currently being reviewed.
Another casualty of a high honeybee population on public lands could be that rare plants become endangered, since they rely on native bees to pollinate them, and honeybees may not pollinate them, preferring more common or invasive plants.
If you are so inclined, now is the time to act and let those who manage your public lands know that you don’t think it is a good idea to issue permits to let commercial honeybee hives be deposited in national forests.
Local land managers usually make these decisions. Hopefully this blog post has helped pinpoint the importance of protecting native pollinators and plants from invading honeybee populations. Please share this info with decision-makers. For more information, scientific data or alternative solutions, check out the resources at Grand Canyon Trust.