“I’m not convinced that it’s so much worse than what we saw in 2004 and 2005,” said Eric Mussen, a bee specialist with the University of California, Davis.
While bees are undoubtedly in trouble this year, Mussen said, there’s little evidence so far that it’s anything other than the continuation of their long struggle with disease, environmental stress and the hardship of being hauled cross-country in midwinter to pollinate crops in California.
“This time the media just became much more involved in it,” he said.
That’s from an article by Jim Downing in the Sacramento Bee. (I kid you not; it is actually a very good paper, although you may need to register and log in to see the full story, which is why I am quoting from it at some length.) Mussen is just one of the experts who says that the fuss this year about vanishing bees reflects more media interest rather than fewer bees.
“About all we’ve got is anecdotes,” said, Troy Fore, executive director of the American Beekeeping Federation.
There is, in fact, no central agency responsible for monitoring the status of honeybees in the US. News comes by word of mouth, and while some beekeepers are playing down the crisis, hoping that farmers don’t question the pollinating ability of the hives they’ve rented, others are blowing up the problem in a bid for government support.
Years ago, Mussen said, many Central Valley counties employed a bee inspector to check the health of rented hives. That person helped resolve disputes between beekeepers and farmers and served as an informal census-taker.
Today, those inspectors are scarce. One of the few remaining is Clifton Piper, who has checked hives for the Merced County Department of Agriculture since 1973. He isn’t sure about the big picture, either.
“It’s difficult to see just how short the shortage is,” he said. Beekeepers often bolster weak hives with imported packages of bees from Australia, he said. And in cold and rainy weather, it’s hard to tell whether sluggish bees in a hive are sick or simply chilly.
I suppose time, and the price of almonds, will tell.