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Virginia Harness

The Preservation of Honey Bees in Idaho

by: Virginia Harness

In mid-January, you can walk into almost any ranch supply store in Southern Idaho and pick up a kit to build your own bee box. There are shelves lined with beekeeping displays and supplies. You have a broad variety of books to pick up on how to care for bees, and there’s a rack full of seeds for native plants nearby. Community education classes are offered on beekeeping, and there are a broad variety of resources for the general public, farmers, and gardeners on how to preserve honey bees.1Though the honey bee population is decreasing, public knowledge is increasing, allowing Idahoans to work toward better habitats for honey bees.

In 1945, the honey bee population included nearly 6 billion hives across the United States.2 Today, there are only around 2.3 million.3 With such drastic decreases in the honey bee population, crops are becoming more and more at risk and the US is in danger of entering a food security crisis. Two of the major dangers facing bees include loss of native forage and constant increases in pesticides.4 In Idaho, there are few state programs to address growing concerns about bees, but a dedicated core of volunteers from around the state are working constantly to improve habitats for honey bees.

In response to decreasing honey bee populations, groups such as Treasure Valley Beekeepers have risen to the challenge to educate the public about the importance of these creatures.5 In cooperation with Idaho Honey Bee, volunteers teach community education classes on honey bees, habitats, and beekeeping at least twice a month.6 These courses draw a wide variety of people, from experienced beekeepers to new gardeners. In addition, Treasure Valley

Beekeepers has an online library with PDFs on beekeeping and videos about the importance of honey bees.7Through outreach programs like these, volunteers are able to create a community with a basic knowledge of how to support honey bees’ natural environments.

Beekeepers are also working with the public to foster a better understanding of honey bees. Boise Bees and Blossoms offer backyard beekeeping services for families with small gardens or wildflower patches, bringing in a honey bee box and maintaining it.8 This program both helps the environment and encourages homeowners to learn more about bees. They also offer bee removal services for people who find swarms of bees, safely taking the bees to areas with good forage in order to avoid extermination.9

Public and private universities alike in Idaho have contributed to honey bee research and education. The University of Idaho’s College of Agriculture and Life Science contributes to community education through publications such as The Homeowner’s Guide to Honey Bees, which details ways homeowners can help preserve honey bees.1Boise State University has a rooftop beekeeping program, encouraging research into urban beekeeping and hiring students as interns.1This program began in 2011 and brings more public awareness to honey bees and urban beekeeping while benefiting Boise’s environment.12

Small gardeners and farmers are encouraged by nurseries, University of Idaho Extension offices, and local soil conservation districts to plant native species and wildflowers in their gardens and backyards to promote healthier ecosystems for honey bees.1Both the University of Idaho and Treasure Valley Beekeepers offer online and print resources on plants that help sustain bee populations. With easily accessible information about native plants and flowers, many small gardeners and hobby farmers create forage for honey bees on their own properties. The increase in gardeners and landscapers growing native forage is a direct result of community education programs.

In 2007, Idaho Legislature passed a law allowing landowners to opt out of routine pesticide spraying by the Mosquito Abatement District.1When honey bees are sprayed by pesticides, they often try to find their way back to the hive while disoriented and sick, and are denied entry by other bees to avoid contamination of the hive.1Every year, beekeepers lose almost 25% of their herd to illness and pesticides.1By opting out of pesticide spraying, landowners can help save honey bees around their property.17

The state of Idaho also offers a project called Operation Wildflower in cooperation with the Adopt­A­Highway program.1Through Operation Wildflower, volunteers can plant seeds for native flowers along the highway while participating in cleaning the roadway, creating healthy habitats where bees can find adequate forage and support their young.19

Idaho needs to continue growing community outreach programs and state supported programs, but with the efforts of dedicated volunteers and concerned Idahoans, we are improving habitats for honey bees and helping keep this crucial species from going extinct.2As interest in honey bees increases in Idaho communities, many different groups are working to change the future of the honey bee. Many youth are introduced to the preservation of bees through 4­H programs, wildlife center presentations, and community outreach at fairs and farmer’s markets. Thanks to the work of volunteers, universities, and beekeepers across the state, a new generation is entering the fight to preserve honey bees, and they are more dedicated than ever.

(Find the complete bibliography and resources at http://preservationofhoneybees.org)

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