When bees are in trouble, so are we | Editorial

In a place that values local sustainability — and, simply put, food in general — we should pay close attention to what’s happening to bees.

It’s commonly believed that one-third of the food we eat depends on bees for pollination. Many fruits and vegetables can’t grow properly without pollination, and bees even pollinate alfalfa, which cattle feed on. In 2007, as honeybees in North America and around the world were beginning to mysteriously die en masse, one USDA official warned that a nation with far fewer bees could mean we are “stuck with grains and water.”

Seven years later, we are unfortunately closer to that reality. The cause or causes of colony collapse disorder — the phenomenon that is decimating bee populations — hasn’t been officially determined, but there’s strong evidence that a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or “neonics” for short, is to blame for the mysterious deaths.

On Vashon there’s been concern for years about colony collapse disorder (CCD) and the role pesticides might play. Many islanders value access to locally sourced and even island-grown produce, and many of us are also environmentally conscious. So it makes sense that our small population would be at the leading edge of a movement away from using neonicotinoids. Two of our home and garden stores no longer carry them, and at least one other is considering whether it will continue to stock them after one islander raised his concerns and started a petition.

But as one island beekeeper said, convincing stores one-by-one to stop selling neonicotinoids won’t go far in ending this global crisis. It’s encouraging that this issue is now being taken seriously at a national level, as President Obama recently formed a task force to devise a strategy for addressing CCD. However, temporarily banning neonics while the issue is studied, as the European Union did, seems a next step worth exploring.

From what we know, King County, one of the more progressive counties in the state, has yet to take a serious look at this issue and what role the county could play in helping the local bee population. The cities of Spokane and Eugene, for instance, have already banned the use of neonics on city-owned land. Let’s not wait for more studies to be done and for science to irrefutably link CCD to these pesticides — there’s evidence enough of their harm to bees to begin taking action now.

In the meantime, farmers and gardeners on Vashon who haven’t already can double check the contents of the pesticides they use. Bees travel just a few miles, so Vashon bees likely stay on Vashon and are critical to local agriculture. Those especially concerned might consider planting a bee-friendly garden or provide strength in numbers by starting their own bee hives.

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