Viruses, other threats to pollinators spur increased beekeeping

March 11, 2013

From:  The Moab Times-Independent


by Steve Kadel


The number of beekeepers and bee colonies in Grand County has increased significantly in the last five years in response to growing concern about diminishing pollinators for gardens and farms, and demand for locally produced honey. 


That assessment comes from Jerry Shue, the county’s bee inspector, who presented a report to the Grand County Council on Tuesday, March 5.


There are now 30 beekeepers with 97 colonies in Grand County, Shue said. That’s up from three beekeepers and less than 10 colonies in 2008.


“It’s hard to keep bees alive,” Shue said. “There are virus problems.”


The biggest issue facing beekeepers comes from parasitic mites and the viruses they transmit, according to Shue’s report. Other threats come from pesticides and lack of forage due to increasing development of the land.


“Honey bee colonies in Grand County are typical of those throughout the country, with evidence of Varroa mites, multiple viruses, and poor queens,” Shue said in his report.


During an interview, he said people should be concerned because honey bees pollinate a wide variety of plants including apple and orange trees, various melon plants, strawberries and almonds.


“One-third of our diet depends on pollination,” Shue said.


To help bolster the local bee population, Grand County beekeepers are moving toward hatching their own queen bees rather than importing them. The process involves taking eggs a queen bee has laid and putting them in a hive that does not have a queen.


The hope is that a hardier strain of bee that is better able to resist mites will result, Shue said, as well as bolstering the number of queen bees in the area. Half of the queen bees in local colonies died during the winter of 2011-2012, he said.


The mortality rate for the past winter is not known because weather hasn’t allowed enough inspections, according to Shue.


He noted that Africanized honeybees have not yet been identified in Grand County. They are considered more aggressive than other bees in defending their hives, and have a larger alarm zone around the hive.


Two colonies of Africanized honeybees have been found in Bluff, in San Juan County. Shue said swarm traps have been placed throughout Grand and San Juan counties to attract, identify and destroy any advancing Africanized bees.

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