What's happening to the humble honeybee? During the winter of 2018, roughly 40% of honeybee colonies in the United States died. Since then, the numbers have continued declining. Beekeepers are steadily losing colonies. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the number of honeybee hives in this country has decreased from 5 million in the 1940s to about 2.5 million today.
Honeybees are Essential Workers
Pollinators are a vital part of agricultural production. Honeybees pollinate about one-third of American crops, a critical process for a healthy supply chain. It's estimated that honeybees contribute nearly $20 billion to the value of US agriculture. They're essential to the production of fruits and vegetables, and declining numbers will not only impact what we all put on our tables every day, but the economy at large. As bees flit from plant to plant gathering nectar for their survival, they pollinate crops such as apples, cranberries, melons and broccoli. Some crops, including blueberries and cherries, are 90-percent dependent on honeybee pollination!
The Threat to Honeybees
Honeybees face multiple threats, both natural and manmade.
Habitat loss has certainly impacted the space they have to roam and create hives. Bees travel for miles and need broad areas with lots of flowers, a source of water, and undisturbed nature in which to build hives. Residential and commercial development has replaced nature in many areas, making it difficult for bees to find a home.
Pesticides and Climate Change
An increased use of chemicals both in farming and residential living has decimated bee populations. Even when the pesticides are not meant for bees, they often kill any insect in their path and winds can carry droplets across large geographic areas, contaminating bee environments and damaging colonies. Scientists believe that climate change is also impacting bees. Climate change is bringing on extreme weather events which can affect the timing of when flowers start to bloom. Fewer flowers available in the early spring mean less food for bees.
Disease and Predators
Finally, disease and predators have accounted for declining bee populations. Pests like the mites hurt bees by invading their hives, and sometimes causing Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which makes bees sick, disoriented and unable to find their way back home. Predators like bears, mice, and even moths and wasps can destroy hives and their bee population.
US Government Efforts to Restore Honeybee Population
The US Department of Agriculture announced $8 million in funding for farmers and ranchers in five states to establish new habitats for honeybee populations. The EPA will limit harmful pesticides and earlier this year, hives were even installed outside the Vice President's residence, to encourage citizens to establish beehives where they could, or at least to plant bee-friendly flowers and flowering herbs in their gardens and yards.
ShoreBags Honors Honeybees with New Design
Honeybees are some of the hardest workers you’ll ever see, but they need our help! We know that the delicate balance between humans and nature is at a critical moment, and we wanted to raise awareness of the importance of bees and encourage their protection. So we've designed a new print for our popular Bodega Tote, featuring a honeybee and the words, "Bees & Trees." Our aim is to celebrate the honeybee and to inspire others to do the same.
If you'd like to help by making a donation, you can do so here, at the Honeybee Conservancy, an organization dedicated to helping bees and creating a world where everybody has equal access to fresh food. The Conservancy has been placing hives around the US and Canada, providing teachers and students with educational plans and activity sheets, and supporting efforts to protect bee populations since 2009.