A law that went into effect this year lifts some of the restrictions that local governments can impose on beekeepers. The law’s passage comes as bee hobbyists and researchers try and determine why the insect is in decline.
“There’s nothing more enjoyable than just working in a bee hive, it’s a relaxing time,” says Tracy Hunter, who runs Hunter’s Honey Farm just outside Martinsville. But Hunter worries about the future of the honeybee, because the species is losing a lot of its habitat and parasites are destroying its hives.
In the 1980s, a beekeeper inadvertently introduced a parasitic mite into the bee population in Florida. It wasn’t long before that mite reached Indiana. “We found out they were vectors for viruses,” Hunter says. “There’s about 12 viruses the mites carry — that get into the honeybees’ blood system.”
Bees are also one of the largest non-native pollinators of crops in the United States. They pollinate plants, allowing the growth of seeds and fruits. That pollen is a food source for bees; but the areas in which the bees can get that pollen are becoming scarce.
At Indiana University’s Department of Biology, Ph.D. student Audrey Parish is among several people trying to determine the effect parasites, pesticides and other factors like climate change have on honeybees. Parish and her colleague Delaney Miller spend their days at IU’s beehives and in the lab, where Miller is trying to develop a microbe to protect bees from certain diseases.
While honeybees aren’t the only flower and crop pollinators out there, the loss or sharp decline of the species would have an impact on nearly everyone, according to IU biology professor Irene Newton: “The numbers of apples that could be pollinated by the current population of native pollinators would be smaller, and outside the price range most people would be willing to pay or are able to pay,” she says.
According to a survey from a national beekeeping industry group, in the seven months between October 2018 and April 2019, 37 percent of managed honeybee hives were lost in the U.S. More than two dozen states have passed laws to protect bees. Some states have placed restrictions on pesticides, while others have placed some bee species on protected lists. In May, Governor Holcomb signed Senate Bill 529 that forbids municipalities from banning beekeeping in their cities.
But Hunter says you don’t have to be a beekeeper to make a difference. Planting more wildflowers that attract bees, and always buying local honey — not generic store brands — will help, as well as cutting back on the use of pesticides.
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