Delaware takes steps to protect bee life

(AP Photo/Andy Duback

(AP Photo/Andy Duback

Nationwide bee colonies have been dying out at unusual rates. In order to protect bee health in Delaware, the state’s Department of Agriculture is releasing a pollinator protection plan.

The new plan does not consist of new rules or regulations, but offers strategies, best practices, techniques and resources beekeepers, farmers, landowners and pesticide applicators can use to protect and enhance bees and other pollinators.

The plan also includes strategies to increase the quantity and quality of pollinator forage on private and public lands.

“Helping our pollinators thrive is everyone’s job, and this plan outlines ways that we can all help,” said Faith Kuehn, plant industries administrator for the Delaware Department of Agriculture. “Pollination is especially critical to our fruit and vegetable growers, and thus has an impact on our economy.”

In recent years, beekeepers have struggled with external forces that are killing their colonies much faster than before—and this is partly due to pesticide use.

When pesticide applicators spray on farmers’ crops, it sometimes can drift on a windy day, affecting the bees. Sometimes bees fly out to crops where pesticides have been applied, and feed their babies who then die as a result.

There also are more illnesses affecting bees, and the creatures also can be killed by mites.

Delaware’s agriculture heavily relies on pollinated crops, such as melons, pumpkins and various berries.

Farmers in the state bring in about 3,000 bee colonies each year to maximize crop pollination, and there also are 180 registered beekeepers with about 1,500 hives.

Bees are important to Delaware’s crop production, and its overall environment, because bees pollinate plants that produce seeds, which are important for birds and other small animals that live on them.

“The issue with bees is not just the issue with bees and what we eat, it’s the issue of the wider environment and how all these things are connected, and if there’s a real critical link in that chain, and bees are one of those a critical links. There are a lot of other negative effects on the environment and economy,” Kuehn said.

The plan encourages beekeepers, growers, pesticide applicators and landowners to take necessary steps and make modifications to support the bee population. Kuehn said protecting bees is a combined responsibility from all the stakeholders.

The Department is encouraging beekeepers, including hobbyists, to participate in its BeeCheck program, which allows beekeepers to add their state-registered beehives to the DriftWatch map—a tool that helps beekeepers, farmers and pesticide applicators share information on their whereabouts. The free national program had previously been open to commercial beekeepers only.

Since opening it up to hobbyists, the number of beekeepers signed up has doubled, Kuehn said.

The department is asking beekeepers to work with landowners when they decide where to locate or relocate their hives, and receiving landowner permission when locating hives on their property. The Department also is asking beekeepers to report any suspected pesticide-related bee kills.

Delaware is also involved in a three-year project to create demonstration and education sites showcasing forage and land management practices supporting bees and promote honey production and develop best management practices for improving bee forage availability and quantity.

“People are a lot more aware of the problem, and these managed pollinator protector plans give people a way of looking at the different issues they can address,” Kuehn said. “Another issue is communicating among the different stakeholders. People don’t communicate as effectively as they could be.”

A copy of the plan is available online at de.gov/pollinatorplan.

More information is available at http://dda.delaware.gov/pesticides/Driftwatch.shtml.

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