October 25, 2014

Medina
Mostly cloudy
48°F

Local beekeeper disagrees with ‘disappearance’ of honeybees

Laura Metzo, left, of North Ridgeville, and her mother, Karen Berger, of South Euclid, search for the queen honeybee in an observational hive at Root Candle, 623 W. Liberty St., Medina. The bees, which keeper Kim Flottum cares for, are let in and out through the adjacent window. There are hundreds of bees in the hive, but only one queen. (NICK GLUNT / GAZETTE)

Environmentalists are buzzing about a federal report on the declining population of U.S. honeybees.

But York Township beekeeper Kim Flottum said the report is overblown.

“It isn’t the crisis people are making it out to be,” he said.

The report, released earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, states that about a third of the nation’s honeybees have been dying out each winter since 2006.

Flottum, 65, who cares for the bees at Root Candles in Medina, said that’s a significant increase compared with 25 years ago, when beekeepers expected about 15 percent of their honeybee populations to die out.

“Don’t get me wrong — it’s a problem, and it’s not getting any better,” said Flottum, who also is editor of the Medina-based Bee Culture magazine. “It’s just not as bad as everyone thinks.”

Flottum said the biggest crisis honeybees face is the parasitic mite, varroa destructor, which causes a fatal disease in the bees on which it feeds.

“Think of the worst problem for any animal out there and that’s what this mite is for bees,” Flottum said.

Other issues include habitat loss, pesticides, droughts, viruses and poor nutrition.

Scientists call this combination of factors “colony collapse disorder,” and it’s happening all around the world.

The threat of honeybees dying out is that crops would fail to flourish because bees do about 80 percent of the pollination of flowering plants.

Flottum said without honeybees, growing crops would be significantly more difficult. And since many sources of meat survive on flowering plants, he said their populations could get stung, too.

The saving grace, he said, is that not every plant requires pollination. Grains like wheat, rice, barley, rye and corn don’t require insects to pollinate.

“We’d survive just fine,” he said.

Still, he said, it’s pretty clear the population is declining year to year.

“Go out to any field with dandelions or a crabapple tree,” Flottum said. “I’d bet you a nickel you won’t see more than five bees.

“In fact, you’ll probably see none.”

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.