Significance of Honey Bees
Honey bees are some of the hardest working, interesting and most beneficial insects in the world. My family has kept bees for 10 years and participates annually in the Bee Informed Survey that keeps track of bee losses each year. Besides the benefits of the honey, beekeeping is an excellent way to earn money and is an interesting hobby. However, we lost many of our hives due to major issues facing honey bees today. Which leads to the questions of what would happen if the honey bees died out and does our state or community organize or fund any programs to help pollinators?
People’s lives and the world would be very different if honey bees perished since they provide several important roles in our food production and economy. The most important role is 2/3 of the world’s crops are dependent on pollinators with an annual average value of 18-27 billion in the United States alone. This comprises most of our fruits, vegetables, nuts, beverages, some raw fibers, and even food oils. In fact, honey bees are either directly or indirectly responsible for 1/3 of every bite humans eat and account for about 15 billion annually. Their efficient robust pollination increases the quantity and often the size of our fruits and vegetables, not to mention 50% larger coffee beans, cocoa, and many spices and herbs. Next, pollinators are essential since they pollinate flowering forage for livestock like clover, field beans, and other cover crops.  Additionally, pollinators are responsible for more than 85% of the world’s flowering plants  and honey bees get direct credit for about 16%  which means they pollinate berries and seeds for wildlife and maintain genetic diversity in the vast variety of flowers whose beauty we enjoy. Finally, bees provide honey, the world’s most perfect food that never spoils. According to the January 15th, 2016 National Honey Report, the U.S. imported $554 million dollars of honey of honey this past month from all over the world to meet our needs! Another important role involves potential medical uses of this insect. There are studies being done in nerve, muscle and other treatments involving honey bee venom. Therefore, honey bees and the services that they provide are irreplaceable for the long term health of our economy, and we should be protecting them in our state and nation.
What are my city and county doing to help bees? When I called my city council, I found our city has no ordinances on bees, but our county does. My county encourages interest in bees by giving agricultural exemptions to folks who own 5-20 acres to put a certain amount of bees on it. My mom, Elizabeth Exley, was one of the main people the Williamson County Agricultural Tax Office asked for advice on this. She interviewed several long-time beekeepers and gave the tax office a proposal outlining the best ideas. They adopted all of them in 2013. Our county hosts Williamson County Area Beekeepers Association (WCABA) that offers scholarships to
youth to interest them in this important insect. In fact, my two older brothers were recipients of WCABA scholarship which is what got us started in in this lifelong hobby. It is notable that public awareness is improved since there is an increase in the memberships of the many beekeeping clubs in Texas. The Texas Beekeepers Association (TBA) is a large nationally recognized group that offers training workshops, raises public awareness, posts other beekeeping group events, and hosts fundraisers to promote honey bees.
The state of Texas also helps honey bees. For instance, the Texas Cottage Food Law was changed to make it easier for beekeepers to sell their honey in certain venues without as much paperwork and licenses. Protecting bees is further aided by the Texas Apiary Inspection Services (TAIS) through resources and registration of beekeepers which make it easier for the general public to find someone to remove unwanted honey bees. Additionally, beekeepers are exempt from the Texas Structural Pest Control Act.  Furthermore, Texas is proud to host Dadant and Sons, the publishers of the American Bee Journal, which is one of the oldest beekeeping publications in the world and was started before the Civil War. This Journal regularly updates the public on beekeeping and honey bee issues
While searching for existing programs protecting pollinators, I emailed Chris Moore, the President of the TBA. He mentioned the 2014 Presidential Memorandum which set aside money for voluntary pollinator protection programs. With some of this money, Texas has come up with a collaborative plan to conserve honey bees. Bee Culture Magazine reports, Texas A&M
University Bee Lab worked with the Texas Department of Agriculture, Farm Bureau, pesticide application people, a seed company, and the manager of landfills to start a creative plan using completed landfills as pollinator habitat that would be planted with pollinator food resources. In addition, more volunteer training and bee hive testing will be done for all possible problems. Chris also mentioned The Pollinator Stewardship Council which focuses more on the detrimental effects of pesticides and gives a state by state summary on what each is doing to help bees. I also emailed Marla Spivak from the University of Minnesota Bee Lab and found that their bee lab is very developed and their state has an exceptional pollinator program in place.  There is no doubt that Texas A&M’s Bee Lab will improve and has a good model to imitate or surpass over time.
Bees are still facing many issues that are destroying them and could significantly harm our economy and our health. However, our city, county, state and nation seem to finally have a good start in promoting awareness and protection. It will be critical to follow through with several of these great ideas on habitat development and protection to make a difference. Hopefully, we will see our bees recover and our city and state programs increase efforts to effectively protect honey bees and other pollinators in our shared environment.
 "Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Course," The Xerces Society, July 2012. http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07e62gitnua1f1cfa3&llr=tnjebhdabThe+ecological+service+they+provide+is+necessary+for+the+reproduction+of+more+than+85+percent+of+the+world%27s+flowering+plants+and+is+fundamental+to+agriculture+and+natural+ecosystems.+More+than+two-thirds+of+the+world%27s+crop+species+are+dependent+on+pollination%2C+with+an+annual+estimated+value+of+%2418+to+%2427+billion+in+the+United+States+alone.
 “Fact Sheet: The Economic Challenge Posed by Declining Pollinator Populations”, Whitehouse, June, 20, 2014, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/20/fact-sheet-economic-challenge-posed-declining-pollinator-populations
 Kevin Hackett, USDA Agriculture Research Services, Mar. 2004, http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/mar04/form0304.pdf
 Marsha Walton, CNN/Sci-Tech, June 14, 2002, http://edition.cnn.com/2002/TECH/science/06/14/coolsc.coffee/index.html?related
 Pollinators, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
 Kevin Hackett, USDA Agriculture Research Services
 Chris Packham, "Would We Starve without Bees?"
 “BEE VENOM: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings,” WebMD. 2009 http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-972-bee%20venom.aspx?activeingredientid=972&
 Shelly, Secretary City of Georgetown, Telephone interview, Jan. 26, 2016
 “Williamson Central Appraisal District Ag Manual”, Williamson County Appraisal District, Mar. 2013, pg 15 http://williamson.agrilife.org/files/2014/10/2013-WCAD-AG-Valuation-Manual.pdf.
 Elizabeth Exley, Jan. 19, 2016
 Chris Moore, TBA, email Jan. 20, 2016
 M.E.A McNeil, Bee Culture, November 20, 2015 http://www.beeculture.com/the-national-strategy-to-promote-the-health-of-honey-bees-and-other-pollinators/
 Marla Spivak, University of Minnesota, Bee Lab, accessed Jan. 25, 2016 https://www.beelab.umn.edu/education/beekeeping-classes
2016 First-Place Essay Winner
Luke is the 3rd of four sons and is a junior in High School. He is methodical and enjoys doing several kinds of projects in 4-H but Science Engineering and Technology is his favorite. We have a 12 foot high oak trebuchet in our yard thanks solely to his efforts. He hopes to attend Texas A&M University like his two older brothers and study some kind of environmental or design engineering. If you want to impress him, bring him a large root beer float with Blue Bell homemade vanilla ice cream.