Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Perils of commercial beekeeping

Honeybees pollinate crops but endure stress, parasites and disease. Solutions are coming. 

Paul Driessen

One of America’s earliest food crops – almonds – is also one of the most important for commercial beekeepers. Almonds depend on bees for pollination, but the explosive growth of this bumper crop taxes the very honeybees the industry needs to thrive.
California’s Central Valley produces over 80% of the world’s almonds, valued at over $4 billion in 2012. The boom is poised to continue, with new food products and expanding overseas markets increasing demand to the point that no young almond trees are available for purchase until 2016.
Demand for almonds translates into demand for pollination. So every year commercial beekeepers transport some 60% of all US honeybees to California’s almond groves in February and March, when it’s still winter in most other states. It’s one of their biggest challenges.
For one thing, bee colonies, especially those from northern states, lack sufficient time to emerge from their heat-conserving winter clusters. Some beekeepers thus maintain 20,000 to 30,000 hives. Each one requires careful inspection for diseases and parasites – a meticulous, Herculean task on such a scale.
Complicating the situation, beekeepers are trying to work within a large-scale agricultural system, using an insect whose husbandry practices have changed little since the nineteenth century. The larger the commercial beekeeper’s stock, the harder it can be to tend them and recover from financial setbacks in the form of lost bees.
Almond growers will need 1.5 million hives this year, estimates Colorado beekeeper Lyle Johnston. “It takes almost all the commercial bees in the United States,” to pollinate the almond crop, he says. The payoff can amount to half an individual keeper’s yearly profit.
However, bees can come back from California “loaded with mites and every other disease you can think of,” beekeeper Ed Colby explains. That can often mean bee colony deaths. Last year, US beekeepers experienced an average 30% overwinter bee loss; some lost 10% to 15% of their hives, while others lost much more. It’s a normal cost of doing business, but it can be painful.
Last year’s rate was higher than normal, and higher than any keeper would want. But it was not the “bee-pocalypse” that some news stories claimed. The real story is that efforts to identify a single unifying cause for higher-than-usual losses have failed. Scientists are discovering that multiple issues affect bee health.
Urban, suburban and agricultural “development has reduced natural habitats, clearing out thousands of acres of clover and natural flowers,” a 60 Minutes investigative report observed. “Instead, bees are spending week after week on the road, feeding on a single crop, undernourished and overworked.”
The migration itself is stressful, notes Glenwood Springs, Colorado Post-Independent reporter Marilyn Gleason. “First, there’s the road trip, which isn’t exactly natural for bees, and may include freezing cold or scorching heat. Bees ship out of Colorado before the coldest weather, and drivers may drench hot, thirsty bees with water at the truck wash.”
The convergence in almond groves of so many commercial bees from all over the country creates a hotbed of viruses and pathogens that can spread to many hives. The varroa destructor mite carries at least 19 different bee viruses and diseases, causing major impacts on bee colonies. Parasitic phorid flies are another problem, and highly contagious infections also pose significant threats. The intestinal fungus nosema ceranae, for example, prevents bees from absorbing nutrition, resulting in starvation.
The tobacco ringspot virus was likewise linked recently to the highly publicized problem known as “colony collapse disorder.” CCD occurs when bees in a colony disappear, leaving behind only a queen and a few workers. The term originally lumped together a variety of such “disappearing” disorders recorded in different locales across hundreds of years, as far back as 950 AD in Ireland. Thankfully, as during past episodes, these unexplained incidents have declined in recent years and, despite all these challenges, overall US honeybee populations and the number of managed colonies have held steady for nearly 20 years.
These days, perhaps the biggest existential threat to bees is campaigns purporting to save them. Extreme-green groups like the Center for Food Safety and Pesticide Action Network of North America are blaming an innovative new class of pesticides called neonicotinoids for both over-winter bee losses and CCD.
Allied with several outspoken beekeepers, the activists are pressuring the Environmental Protection Agency, Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency and government regulatory agencies to follow Europe’s lead – and ban neonics. Instead of protecting bees and beekeepers, however, their campaigns will likely cause greater harm – because they ignore the multiple threats that scientists have identified, and because a neonic ban will result in farmers using pesticides that are more toxic to bees.
The European Union’s political decision to suspend neonic use came because France’s new agriculture minister banned their use. That meant French farmers would be at a distinct disadvantage with the rest of Europe, if they were the only ones unable to use the pesticide, noted British environmental commentator Richard North. They could lose $278 million per season in lost yields and extra pesticide spraying.
So the French agricultural ministry sought an EU-wide ban on all neonicotinoids. After several votes and a misleading report on the science, the European Commission imposed a ban, over the objections of many other EU members, who note that the evidence clearly demonstrates the new pesticides are safe for bees.
Years-long field tests have found that real-world exposures have no observable effects on bee colonies. Other studies have highlighted other significant insect, fungal, human and other issues that, singly or collectively, could explain CCD. Having analyzed scores of 2007-2012 bee death incidents, Canadian bee experts concluded that “…very few of the serious bee kills involve neonicotinoid pesticides. Five times as many ‘major’ or ‘moderate’ pesticide-related bee kills were sourced to non-neonic chemicals.”
In Canada’s western provinces, almost 20 million acres of 100% neonic-treated canola is pollinated annually by honeybees and tiny alfalfa leaf-cutter bees. Both species thrive on the crop, demonstrating that neonics are not a problem. Large-scale field studies of honeybees at Canadian universities and a bumblebee field study by a UK government agency found no adverse effects on bees.
Last October, a team of industry scientists published a four-year study of the effects of repeated honeybee exposure to neonic-treated corn and rapeseed (canola) pollen and nectar under field conditions in several French provinces. The study found similar mortality, foraging behavior, colony strength and weight, brood development and food storage in colonies exposed to seed-treated crops and in unexposed control colonies. This also indicates low risk to bees.
At least two more major, recently completed university-run field research projects conducted under complex, costly scientific laboratory guidelines (“good lab practices”) are awaiting publication. All indications to date suggest that they too will find no observable adverse effects on bees at field-realistic exposures to neonicotinoids.
Meanwhile Project ApisM., a partnership of agro-businesses and beekeepers, has invested $2.5 million in research to enhance the health of honeybee colonies. Switzerland-based Syngenta has spent millions expanding bee habitats in Europe and North America, through Project Pollinator. Bayer has built bee health centers in Europe and the United States, and Monsanto’s Beeologics subsidiary is developing technology to fight varroa mites.
None of that matters to the anti-pesticide activists. They are using pressure tactics to make Canada and the United States copy the EU. That would be a huge mistake. Science, not politics, should prevail.

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power - Black death.

Monday, 7 April 2014

BC Deer Protection Society should pay for damages

As a former Conservation Officer that had to deal with the aftermath of deer/human interaction, I applaud the efforts of councils to cull the deer population, it’s long overdue and needs to continue.  It’s a necessary part of wildlife population management. The attacks on people and pets are well documented in communities throughout BC and a cull is the only option that is viable. Deer do not belong on urban streets and in backyards. They have ample room to habituate outside of the communities.  All the rhetoric about “they were here first” is historically wrong. The early explorers  of this area wrote of lean times trying to find wildlife to hunt.  It’s only been thru proper management and continuing efforts of hunters and conservationists that deer have been allowed to thrive in the Kootenays.

It’s been over a month since Kazakoff and Sikora were charged and released for their alleged part in tampering of deer traps in Kimberley.  The BC Deer Protection Society’s (BCDPS ) only response is to ask for donations to fight the charges against their spokesperson. The societies act is fairly clear that donations have to be used to further the goals of the organization. In my view this is clearly outside of a not for profit society function. The directors of the BCDPS should be the ones paying not the general public. Are they condoning criminal actions while building a war chest for future actions? Instead of a defense fund the BCDPS should pay for the damaged traps and the contractors lost wages? It’s only fair considering all the financial damage they have inflicted on municipalities and individuals.  

Paul Visentin


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Anti Deer Cull groups need to come clean

Devin Kazakoff protesting in Cranbrook 2013
Devin Kazakoff spokesperson for the BC Deer Protection Society (BCDPS) and the Invermere Deer Protection Society (IDPS), has been charged with mischief, and disguising the face with intent to commit an offence.  Kazakoff and co accused Lucky Gene Sikora were alleged to have tampered with the deer traps in Kimberley on Feb 27th. Kazakoff and Sikora are enabled by multiple anti deer cull groups across BC and a registered political party in Ontario the Animal Alliance and Environmental Voters Party. Animal Alliance is run from Ontario by Liz White, the BCDPS is headed by Colleen Bailey of Cranbrook of which Kazakoff is a spokesperson, Kazakoff and Vince Zurbriggen are on record as the founders of the IDPS. These activists all share a common goal under the BC Deer Protection Coalition (BCDPC) giving themselves internal support and a larger donation base.
BCDPS spokesperson Kazakoff has been decrying the secrecy of councils by day while under cover of darkness he was allegedly wearing a mask to tamper with traps. Neither Liz White of the Animal Alliance or Coleen Bailey, head of the BCDPS have made any official statement to the media about the arrest of the BCDPS spokespersons.  Is the BCDPS shifting gears and adopting a Greenpeace style of activism?
The BCDPS, BCDPC and the Animal Alliance have had ample time to make a public statement about Kazakoff and Sikora. Ms. White and Bailey need to be reminded that it is their spokesperson that is facing serious criminal charges, have they nothing to say?  Colleen Bailey and Liz White have taken the time to post comments or articles on various media sources since the arrest but neither makes any mention of Kazakoff’s arrest.  They need to publically condemn what Kazakoff’s is alleged to have done.  Failure to do so could send these various deer protection groups down the road of eco-activism; embracing criminal activity to achieve their goals.
Is this really want  Colleen Bailey and Liz White want?

Sunday, 23 June 2013

David Suzuki is no saint to me

 beaconnews.ca | June 22, 2013  

David Suzuki column offensive and ill-timed

Albertans are spitting mad at David Suzuki. The famous environmentalist and CBC host wrote a column yesterday tying Alberta flooding, in which three died, to his favourite hobby horse, climate change. “Too soon, Dave?” was a common comment heard in Tim Hortons across the province yesterday, uttered by Albertans reeling from the worst flooding in recent memory. Over 75,000 people evacuated from Calgary, much of Canmore and High River completely under water with local infrastructure destroyed or severely damaged,
Too soon, indeed.
As thousands of Albertans huddled in evacuation centres and contemplated the loss of their homes and belongings, the last thing they needed to hear was David Suzuki using their pain as a pretext to preach about climate change. “Can we say the recent flooding and extreme weather in Southern Alberta and B.C. were caused by global warming? Maybe not, but we can say we should expect more of the same – and worse if we don’t do something to get our emissions under control. As many scientists warn, climate change isn’t coming; it’s here,” he wrote.
Suzuki’s use of so much personal tragedy as a platform to promote his political agenda is repugnant. Am I surprised? No, because I have a personal history with Suzuki that offers a bit of insight into his judgment on these kinds of issues.
It was 1992 and I had just set myself up as a one-man public relations agency in Prince Alberta, Sask. My phone rang and it was a colleague asking me if I would help out the Meadow Lake Tribal Council with a sticky issue in their forestry operations. MLTC had recently bought a big sawmill in Meadow Lake. As part of the deal, the Tribal Council received a forestry licence that included re-foresting obligations. Some of the First Nations band members objected to the MLTC forestry company’s harvesting and silviculture methods, and had occupied a logging road, refusing to let workers and equipment onto the harvesting area.
Acting upon bad advice from their lawyer and a big Vancouver PR firm, the MLTC chief and council kept their head down and refused to talk to media. Well, after a couple of weeks the story was completely out of control and was leading national newscasts. Naturally, David Suzuki injected himself into the controversy.  He flew out to Saskatchewan, met with the protesting elders, and dominated the news cycle thereafter. Desperate to turn things around, MLTC asked me to help. I asked them one question: Do you have good stories to tell?
This was the height of the “BC is the Brazil of the North” campaigns (funny how BC is now a model of great forestry practices, eh?) and the Oka standoff was still fresh in everyone’s memory. The last thing I wanted was to be helping bonafide land rapers, even if they were First Nations. Our silviculture practices are world-class, we plant more than we harvest, and we do everything we can to protect the land, I was told. Their foresters backed up the story with data and examples. Soon MLTC was telling its story to Canadians via the national media. And a good story it was, too.
As part of my efforts, I reached out to David Suzuki. He needs the forestry data and information as much as the media, I thought. We had a cordial discussion, I sent him the info and we agreed to meet at his next press conference at the logging road blockade. I showed up a few days later, the lone company representative amongst a large group of protestors, a number of them armed young men with covered faces a la the Oka images we all remember so well. Suzuki began the press conference. Now that the had the other side’s information, with plenty of evidence about their responsible harvesting and silviculture practices, I thought he would moderate his tone and the protest would head in a different direction. Talk about naive.
He launched into a blistering attack on MLTC, completely ignoring the evidence that didn’t jibe with his conclusions. Then he did something I’ll never forget. He announced that Markham Hislop, a representative of MLTC, was in the crowd and pointed me out. Immediately, no doubt choreographed ahead of time, a number of large and armed men surrounded me, leaning in in a very threatening manner. They remained that way for the remainder of the press conference. Some of them muttered very nasty things in my ear.
Intimidating?  You bet. I was shaking when I finally got back to the car.
You’ll forgive me if I don’t think of Suzuki as Saint David. The man has a nasty, ruthless streak and he’s willing to take advantage of others if it furthers his greater cause. One, incidentally, I usually have a lot of sympathy for. So, the willingness of David Suzuki to exploit the suffering of Albertans came as no surprise to me. Perhaps he even thought of it as a form of cosmic revenge, since Alberta is the home of the Canadian oil and gas industry, and Calgary is the Houston of Canada. Whatever the case, his column was in very poor taste. And Albertans were not amused.
An apology from Suzuki is in order.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Americans meddling again in the Flathead

Wildsight, Sierra Club, Y2Y and CPAW’s (environmental NGO’s) are losing credibility with their continued opposition to resource extraction in BC and Alberta. The call to ban new coal mines and place a moratorium on expanding existing mines is part of the Y2Y strategy. The ultimate goal is to remove at least 50% of the land base from Yellowstone to Yukon and lock it away from human interference and habitation. This report is on the heels of another study,  Safe Havens and Safe Passages, produced by environmentalists from Montana. These two reports want the same end; a national park and land locked away from development. These groups are not accountable to anyone but their US funders who provide millions to push an anti-fossil fuel campaign hidden in environmental campaigns.
The environmental NGO’s will cherry pick data to support their ideology and this latest one by Hauer provides ample ammunition for their rhetoric. The report was commissioned by Glacier National Park (GNP) which has no connection to the Elk River and only borders the US portion of Flathead River. Why would GNP meddle in the affairs of Canada other than to assist environmentalists in their goal of creating the long sought after Flathead National Park? The objective of the study was to “focus on potential environmental effects of proposed coal mining in the Canadian portion of the Flathead River Basin”  One has to wonder why the report is focused on the Elk River when the study is supposed to be about the Flathead.
The information in Hauer’s report is not new, multiple studies since the late 90’s have been done on the Elk and Flathead River. Hauer fails to reference any of the historical data or the studies done by many selenium experts in Canada and the US. To further complicate the issue; Hauer is associated to environmental NGO’s on both sides of the border. In 2012 he was the coordinator for  Wildsight’s 2012 Bioblitz in the Canadian side of the Flathead. Science is supposed to work by building a body of research which takes us closer to the truth and is free from external influences.  We should demand better science from a university professor that expects no less of his students.
Selenium is a naturally occurring mineral that is found throughout the system and is a required mineral in our diet. The known science on selenium in the Elk River shows that it is not a mortality factor for fish over the entire length due to the fast flowing flushing capabilities of the Elk River.  In 1995 the river had a major freshet event that flushed fish and their spawning beds out of the river. It has bounced back to record levels of bull trout, cutthroat and whitefish without any intervention other than reduced angling regulations. For Hauer to suggest that “coal mines represent a significant threat to the ecological integrity of these streams and rivers” does not take into account the historic rise and fall of fish populations. This is a classic example of cherry picked data.
The environmental NGO’s definition of the Elk River as “polluted” “poisoned” “toxic’ are clearly ignorant of the natural beauty of the Elk. It is widely known as one of the best Cutthroat fisheries that attracts fishers from around the world. Fishers come here because of the size and quantity of cutthroat not the polluted toxic mess that activists want to frame the argument around.  Wildsight’s Ryland Nelson went out on a limb and recently quoted in the Fernie Free press "You should not be eating more than one fish a week out of the Elk River otherwise you could be having health concerns". To suggest that people will be harmed by eating fish from the Elk River is fear mongering at best. Not one study has ever shown that correlation based on the values found in the Elk. Nelson uses no science to back up his claim; he is neither a scientist nor a health professional with any qualifications to make such a statement.
To place a moratorium on coal mining based on the Sierra Clubs rhetoric would be destructive at best. The environmental NGO’s are against all resource extraction regardless of the benefits to mankind. Environmentalist’s use a self-written version of the precautionary principle that places the onus on companies to prove nothing will ever happen to anyone forever into the future before they can proceed. Using their ideology a lot of the advances in modern science would never have been achieved.
Hauer's report only serves to fuel the media hype to ban coal mining and create a Flathead National park.  Environmental NGO’s and their American funders have the ability to be constructive and help the coal mines develop solutions to environmental issues, yet they choose the destructive path; using fear and misinformation to push their vision of what the world should be. It’s time we told these environmentalists to butt out unless they have something constructive or credible to add.
Paul Visentin Kootenay ThinkTwice group