Guest Columnist

Bees are critical to our survival

Bees in the demonstration hive at Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, photographed on April 5, 2016. For years, Indian Creek has held beginning beekeeping classes but in the last year, enrollment took off from the typical 25-person class to 75. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
Bees in the demonstration hive at Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, photographed on April 5, 2016. For years, Indian Creek has held beginning beekeeping classes but in the last year, enrollment took off from the typical 25-person class to 75. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
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Two boys were implicated in the killing of more than a half million bees at a Sioux City farm last month. The two face charges of criminal mischief, agricultural animal facilities offenses and burglary after breaking into and vandalizing the farm, exposing the bees to deadly winter temperatures.

An attack on these important insects is exceedingly problematic. Wild bees are critical to safeguarding U.S. food supplies and growing our economy. Such utter disregard for bees — whether domestic or wild — puts the species one step closer to extinction.

Wild bee populations have dramatically declined in recent years. At least 37 percent of bee species are declining, according a 2015 United Nations report. Worse still, roughly 9 percent of bee species are facing extinction.

Within the past two decades, some bee populations declined by more than 90 percent.

There are several reasons. Take pesticides. More than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the United States each year. Worldwide, that number is 5.6 billion pounds.

Pesticides can be poisonous to bees. In Oregon, for example, at least 50,000 bumblebees died suddenly after their tree habitat was sprayed with a neonic dinoteguran to control aphids.

Loss of habitat also is a major threat. Here in the United States, we lose about 6,000 acres of habitat per day thanks to land development projects, ethanol production and farm crops. The lack of available habitat makes it nearly impossible for bees and other pollinators to survive.

Climate change is another reason. As Defenders of Wildlife explains, “Shifting temperature and precipitation patterns (alter) the distribution of plants and their flowering times.” This makes it difficult for bees to receive proper nourishment.

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Regardless of the cause of their demise, diminishing bee populations are a major threat to human survival.

For starters, bees are critical to safeguarding the global food supply. By transporting pollen between flowers and crops, bees are responsible for producing many important crops that humans enjoy daily. In the United States, bees pollinate more than 90 commercial crops. These crops include nuts, fruits and vegetables.

The same is true worldwide. In fact, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization reports that roughly 90 percent of the global food supply originates from 100 crop species. Of those species, more than 71 percent rely on bees for pollination.

You can thank bees for one of every three bites of food you eat in your lifetime. According to a June 2014 White House report, bees contribute more than $15 billion to our economy through their role as pollinators.

California’s almond industry, almost exclusively pollinated by honeybees, was valued at roughly $533 billion in 2015.

It may seem counterintuitive to care about bugs, but bees are a critical part of human survival.

Although it didn’t affect the wild bee population, the latest vandalism in Iowa represents the careless mentality that threatens the survival of bee species — and human well-being.

• Jacy Gomez is a communications specialist and a former congressional staffer for U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.

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