Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Birds and The Bees

The Beekeepers  Pieter Bruegel the Elder c 1568
Gemaldegalerie Berlin, Germany

I don't know about you, but I'm starting to get very nervous about all these so-called anomalies of nature that keep occurring everywhere.  Not long ago, large numbers of birds began falling out of the sky, in more than one location across the globe.  I keep hearing that it was all caused by a series of fireworks that somehow induced a state of confusion in the birds. Well, excuse me if I'm a little skeptical. About the only time I've ever seen fireworks induce a state of confusion was when I once had a little too much to drink at a fourth-of-July celebration.  I'm thinking there might be more to it.

One reason for my skepticism is that there have also been massive fish die-offs and, on top of that, frogs are disappearing at an alarming rate.  They say that nearly one-third of amphibian species are threatened and that many of the non-threatened species are "on the wane."

Also seriously on the wane, are bats.  And I don't need any scientific report to tell me that.  Up until several years ago, the rafters of our big red barn would be filled with Little Brown bats during the summer.  They were so small and so proficient at tucking themselves in among the beams and rafters, and squeezing their tiny fragile bodies into the mortises (their favorite spot) that I would rarely see them during the day.  But almost every evening I would have to take a broom to the barn floor to sweep up all the guano.  So, I knew they were there. Now, I see very few bat droppings.  The experts have identified a fungus, called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) as the cause of the unprecedented bat die-off but they still don't know the source of the virus or how to stop it. Meanwhile we know that if we lose our bats, our entire system of agriculture is threatened because bats are the primary predator of night-flying, plant destroying insects.

And then there are the honeybees.  Honeybee populations are declining at the rate of about 40% per year from what's been called colony collapse disorder (CDD).  The cause of CDD has yet to be determined but if something isn't done soon to stop the massive die-offs, scientists tell us that our agricultural economy won't be able to withstand another yearly loss of that many honeybees. According to estimates, about 30% of the food we eat is dependent on honeybee pollination; everything from cashews to cabbage (for a list of some of those foods, click here).  So, I'm not yet jumping to any conclusions about the blackbirds dropping out of the sky, but I think you can appreciate where I'm coming from with my skepticism.

In their research reports, the usually closed-mouthed scientists are throwing around the term "mass extinction" a lot these days and I don't like what I'm reading in between the lines.  We all know that the loss or decline of just a single species can tip the scale of biodiversity in ways that are unpredictable. The worst part of this nightmarish dilemma is the feeling of helplessness; a feeling that there's nothing we can do to stop any of this.

Well, in the case of the honeybee, one thing you can do to help right now is to sign a petition.  The petition is being circulated by Slow Food, and it insists that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) honor its pledge to investigate those pesticides which are believed to play a role in the decline of the honeybee.  As you might imagine, there is considerable pressure coming from the manufacturers of these agents to stall the investigations along the way.  You can click below to sign the petition; it takes just seconds.  And then, go for a walk around your farm or garden and take in what you see because, unless we find some quick answers to some of these seemingly intractable problems, the view could be very different in just a few short years.

Click here to sign the petition


  1. Thank you for posting this, Joe. As beekeepers, David and I are very much aware of the issues and very concerned about the overwhelming use of pesticides in commercial agriculture.

  2. Hi Hilda and David: Thanks for your comment and I hope that your colonies are all doing well so far!--Joe

  3. Joe, such an important post and subject. It's almost too scary to think about. I wish to retreat into Bruegel's painting and hold time still and safe. If only we could.

  4. Hi, Maude: I couldn't agree more. With so many environmental catastrophes happening around us, I'm afraid that, by the time the world wakes up, it might be too late. The most delicate threads are usually the hardest to see.--Joe


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