What's all the buzz about?


BRATTLEBORO -- Pollinator decline is an issue that affects everyone.

"The area most people are familiar with is honey bees and colony collapse disorder," said Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center Staff Naturalist Patti Smith. "Hives just disappear over the winter with no dead bees left in the hive so the theory is they're flying out, getting disoriented and not making it back to the hive."

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the disorder threatens the health of honey bees as well as the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations.

Research is currently being conducted to see what can be done about the issue. Smith says that a fairly new breed of pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, could be partially responsible.

"They essentially block nerve reception so they cause nervous disorders in bees and other insects that feed on crops," she said. "Bee pesticides have become very widely used and one of the problems with them is they are systemic in the plant. You don't just treat the leaves and the plant is clean."

These chemicals can remain in pollen and nectar for years. Although bees may be exposed to a sublethal amount of neonicotinoids, Smith said it is believed the effects may not kill the bee but it may cause bleakness or disorientation in which colony collapse is the result.

Honey bees are not the only pollinator being affected. Bumble bee populations are also known to be on the decline. Bumble bees pollinate many crops.

On Sunday, there will be two programs aimed at creating awareness for pollinator decline. Badger Balm Company, of New Hampshire, is sponsoring the programs.

A free workshop will be held at the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum at 10 a.m., where honey bee expert Jody Turner will discuss colony collapse disorder and how to avoid products containing neonicotinoids. She will bring an observation hive.

At 1 p.m., there will be a free workshop at the Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center. Landscape designer and honeybee habitat educator Tom Sullivan will talk about designing and installing pollinator gardens as well as threats to native pollinators. He will also discuss neonicotinoids and how to find seeds and nursery stock that have not been treated.

After that workshop, a pollinator garden will be planted at Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center.

"Finding plants is one thing. Making sure you're not poisoning the bees is another," Sullivan said.

His business Pollinators Welcome focuses on designing landscapes that also create habitats for pollinators. He had begun to hear of pollinator decline in 2005.

"We have a lot to do to bring balance back where we can start looking forward to bright futures for ourselves and the bees," said Sullivan. "I'm trying to encourage people to do as much as they can. Planting for them is one of the big things. Being aware of their nesting requirements is another and then reducing to zero if possible, neonicotinoids and other dangerous chemicals."

Smith began hearing of the issue approximately five years ago.

"It seems to really be coming to the floor this year because there's more and more awareness," she said. "There's more and more research going on and I think it's going to become a pretty hot issue. Obviously, we all depend on pollinators pretty heavily so it has a great potential ecological impact. It's something we need to be paying attention to."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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