How MP3 can more effectively protect honey bees from pesticide exposure

By Skyler Turner

Every year, the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees sponsors an essay contest with 4-H. This year, the essay topic was state pollinator protection plans and how they can be improved in effectiveness. Below is an excerpt from this year’s winning essay. (Her outcome in the national contest was still pending at press time.)

Did you know that honey bees pollinate 70 out of the 100 crop species that

Feed 90 percent of the world population? Well, they do, and if things do not change, mankind along with other species could become extinct.

Some plants on Earth can be pollinated by wind but this process is very slow.

Honey bees help speed up this process by carrying pollen from one plant to another collecting nectar, a much more effective process. Therefore, the decline of honey bees can have a detrimental effect on Earth’s population.

Many factors figure into the decline of the bee population. Some of these factors are:

Sick bees: Bees have their own form of diseases and parasites. Often, these can weaken the bee, decreasing the bee’s ability to fight these diseases and parasites, ultimately resulting in death.

Hungry bees/pesticide use: Nectar from flowers is the primary source of food for bees and is their source of protein. As such, the bees need a reliable source of flowers to ensure proper nutrition. While bees that are kept in hives are often given supplementary feed by their keepers to maintain their health, they still require the protein found in pollen. If sufficient amount of pollen and nectar are not available, bees will starve. Many industrial practices include the use of pesticides that lower the diversity of wild flowers in and around farms, thereby decreasing available food sources and adding to the decrease of the honey bee population.

Poisoned bees: Many flowers, nesting sites, and the general environment around bees can be contaminated with chemicals. Some chemicals such as insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides are applied to crops that bee pollinate. By simply delaying the applications to post-flowering time, much of the hazard of affecting the bee populations is decreased.

Shocking decline

Per a study performed by Bee Informed, since 2015 Kentucky has experienced an annual 47.7 percent loss rate of hives. We can lower this rate of decline through the Pollinator Protection Plan. This plan’s major purpose is to bring awareness to the problem of declining honey bee populations. The MP3 (Pollinator Protection Plan) does not wish to eradicate all use of chemicals, but desires to lower the use of them or the timing of the use of them.

The second goal of this plan is to augment the pollinators’ habitat. The state can lower the costs that are related with spraying or mowing and increase nutrition or habitats for pollinators. Toxic weeds still need to be kept delimited.

Kentucky has considered legislation that would certify “prescribed burn”. A prescribed burn is also known as hazard reduction burning. This burn is a technique used in forest management, farming, prairie restoration, etc. It is said that the prescribed burning will help increase the bee populations across America.

Until they pass this legislation, Kentucky is looking for alternative ways to increase the habitats of honey bees and stop the colony decline. One way is to increase the attraction of bees to reclaimed surface mine sites. Surface mining accounts for the loss of thousands of pollen-and nectar-producing trees but the good news is that many of the plants the coal companies reseed are useful for bees. If you four-wheel into a patch of Sericea Lespedeza, you will see honey bees working!

Spreading awareness

Kentucky state parks are taking the lead in awareness of pollination education and demonstrations. Another point in this goal is to keep protecting the nature preserves, which is a key factor in the habitats of the honey bees. Kentucky currently has 63 State Nature Preserves, with a combined total of 27,000 acres. Nature preserves likewise provide superb diversity of flowers and nectar trees.

Finally, the last two goals of this plan are extension and outreach. These goals will help spread more awareness of the problem at hand. Through this plan, we are encouraged to go different places and talk about how we can help the bees. We are the bees’ voice. We must speak up for them because no one besides us will.

As a state and as a nation we have a decision to make, to either help or destroy bees. Kentucky is relying more and more on pollinators in the agricultural community. As coal declines, Kentucky faces an economic crisis that may be corrected by bringing back the honey industry that once thrived in the Bluegrass state.

This plan, if we keep following it, can help the bee population increase once again. As a state, as a nation, we can aim to mend the wrongs that we created.

By Skyler Turner

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