Sustainability: Endangered Bees

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Bees were just put on the endangered list. We will talk to a beekeeper/expert about the state of bees in Arizona and across the country. Bees are an integral part of our food system. While Arizona’s bee situation is not dire, in many places it is and that means higher food prices and in some cases, possible shortages of certain foods like almonds. Beekeeper Nick Baker will tell us more.

TED SIMONS: THERE IS INCREASING CONCERN FOR THE STATE OF BEES IN ARIZONA AND THE U.S. SCIENTISTS SAY THAT 40% OF BEE SPECIES ARE DYING OUT AND NO ONE CAN QUITE FIGURE OUT Y. HERE WITH MORE IS NICK BAKER, AN ARIZONA BEEKEEPER AND BIOLOGIST. WE HAVE ALL SORTS OF BEES IN OUR YARD, BUT 40% OF BEES AND BUTTERFLY SPECIES ARE DYING OUT. WHAT'S GOING ON OUT THERE?

NICK BAKER: IN REGARD TO HONEYBEES WE HAVE A LOT DISEASES THAT BEEKEEPERS ARE HAVING TO HANDLE. THE BIGGEST ONE IS PROBABLY WHAT WE CALL THE VARROA MITE, YOU CAN THINK OF AS A TICK, IT GETS INSIDE OF THE CELL AS THE BEE IS GROWING AND LATCH ON AND DRINK THE BLOOD OF THE BEE AND WHEN IT EMERGES IT MIGHT HAVE WING DEFORMITIES AND CAN'T FLY AND COLLECT NECTAR, POLLEN AND KEEP THE HONEY COLONY GOING.

TED SIMONS: IS THERE SOMETHING NEW THAT'S INTRODUCED?

NICK BAKER: NO, IT'S BEEN AROUND, I THINK IT SHOWED UP IN THE 80S SOMETIME AND GOT WORSE AND WORSE.

TED SIMONS: ANY WAY TO ATTACK IT?

NICK BAKER: YEAH, SCIENTISTS NOW AND OTHER BEEKEEPERS ARE WORKING ON WAYS TO TRY AND CURB THE PROBLEM WITH THE MITE. ONE OF THE THINGS THEY'RE DOING IS GOING THROUGH THE COLONIES AND SELECTING QUEENS THAT HAVE QUEEN BEEHIVES, SO TO SPEAK, HAVE LESS MITE DAMAGE AND MAKING NEW QUEENS FROM THEM. AND ALSO USING I GUESS MITICIDES.

TED SIMONS: HERE IN ARIZONA OR ELSEWHERE?

NICK BAKER: DEFINITELY HAVE MITE PROBLEMS HERE. IT'S SOMETHING THAT I'M FIGHTING WITH MYSELF. WHEN I HAVE USED TO WORK AT ASU, DOING RESEARCH, WE HAD QUITE A COUPLE OF YEARS WHERE WE HAD BAD MITE PROBLEMS.

TED SIMONS: WHAT WERE THEY?

NICK BAKER: WE USED ONE YEAR SOMETHING AS SIMPLE AS POWDERED SUGAR, IT KEPT THEM DOWN AND USED OTHER THINGS LIKE OTHER MITICIDES.

TED SIMONS: I READ THAT FEWER DIVERSE GARDEN AND AGRICULTURAL FACTORS ARE PLAYING A FACTOR ON THE MICRO LEVEL. DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT?

NICK BAKER: HERE, OTHER LANDSCAPE IS CHANGING, WE HAVE QUITE A BIT OF AGRICULTURE BUT WE'RE LOSING MORE AND MORE OF THAT. IT'S HARDER TO FIND A PLACE TO PLACE BEES AND KEEP THEM FED THROUGHOUT THE YEAR. THE BEES CAN STARVE DURING CERTAIN PARTS OF THE YEAR, LIKE AROUND THIS TIME.

TED SIMONS: CLIMATE CHANGE A FACTOR?

NICK BAKER: I COULDN'T SPEAK ON THAT BUT IT'S GETTING HOTTER HERE. HONEYBEES ARE GOOD WITH DEALING WITH HEAT. THEY DO WELL HERE ARIZONA.

TED SIMONS: DOES IT HELP IF YOU OWN A HOME AND SHOULD YOU PLANT SOME PLANTS?

NICK BAKER: I WOULD DEFINITELY SUGGEST THAT.

TED SIMONS: IT COULDN'T HURT.

NICK BAKER: NO, SOMETHING THAT IS A PERENNIAL. BLOOMING YEAR-ROUND, IT'S A PLUS. ESPECIALLY FOR ME, BECAUSE I KEEP MY BEES IN NEIGHBORHOODS.

TED SIMONS: SURE, BUT IF YOU DON'T WANT TO GO THE WHOLE NINE YARDS AND HAVE A -- KEEPING BEES AND WEARING THE COSTUME AND EVERYTHING. IF YOU JUST WANT TO PLANT SOME PLANTS. WE HAVE ROSES AND STUFF EVERYWHERE.

NICK BAKER: YEAH, ARIZONA HAS QUITE A NUMBER OF PLANTS THAT ARE NATIVE TO HERE THAT BLOOM SEVERAL TIMES A YEAR, DESERT LANDSCAPING HELPS AS WELL.

TED SIMONS: 75% OF THE WORLD'S CROPS DEPEND ON POLLINATION. THIS IS A BIG DEAL AROUND THE WORLD, ISN'T IT?

NICK BAKER: HONEYBEES ARE USED MOSTLY FOR LARGER POLLINATION, LIKE ALMONDS, IN CALIFORNIA. CALIFORNIA PRODUCES ABOUT 80% OF ALMONDS FOR THE WORLD AND A MAJORITY OF THE BEE KEEPERS FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY WILL BRING THEIR BEES TO THE ALMOND POLLINATION EVERY YEAR, WHICH IS SOMETHING I ALSO DO AS WELL.

TED SIMONS: INTERESTING.

NICK BAKER: AND YOU'VE GOT PUMPKINS AND I TOOK MY BEES OUT TO TEXAS FOR PUMPKINS AND CITRUS HERE IN ARIZONA AND COTTON IS A GOOD CROP, IT DOESN'T ALWAYS PRODUCE HONEY, SO I KEEP MY BEES NEAR COTTON AND ALFALFA, OF COURSE WE HAVE A LOT OF ALFALFA HERE IN ARIZONA.

TED SIMONS: USED TO HAVE A LOT MORE, BUT -- BASICALLY OUR WELL-BEING IS LINKED TO BEES?

NICK BAKER: SURE, FOR MASS PRODUCTION OF FOOD, ABSOLUTELY. THE BEES HELP INCREASE THE PRODUCTION OF WHAT WE WOULD NORMALLY GET FROM A CROP. IF WE LOST ALL OF THE BEES WE WOULDN'T BE ABLE TO MASS PRODUCE FOODS, BUT WE'D STILL HAVE THEM, JUST A SMALLER AMOUNT.

TED SIMONS: PEOPLE SAY WE LOSE BEES WE'RE LOSING A LOT HERE. HOW SERIOUS IS THIS ISSUE?

NICK BAKER: I WOULDN'T PANIC IN ARIZONA, BECAUSE WE HAVE A UNIQUE SITUATION WITH AFRICANIZED HONEY BEES. AFRICANIZED HONEY BEES, THEY'RE HONEY BEES JUST LIKE THE EUROPEAN HONEY BEE. THE DIFFERENCE IS THEY HAVE AN ATTITUDE PROBLEM. THEY GET UPSET PRETTY EASILY. BUT THEY'RE A HONEY BEE NONETHELESS. AND BETTER POLLINATORS AND HONEY PRODUCERS THAN EUROPEAN BEES. I'VE GOT A FEW AFRICANIZED COLONIES THAT ARE GROWING RAPIDLY WHERE THE EUROPEAN COLONIES ARE STRUGGLING RIGHT NOW.

TED SIMONS: AFRICANIZED BEES ARE THEY AT RISK FOR MITE AS WELL?

NICK BAKER: NO, THEY'RE HYGIENIC, THEY REPRODUCE FASTER THAN THE EUROPEAN HONEYBEE, AFRICANIZED BEES EMERGE AT DAY 19 AND THAT TWO-DAY DIFFERENCE CUTS BACK ON THE MITE LIFE CYCLE. SO, THEREFORE, THEY'RE MORE HYGIENIC.

TED SIMONS: WHEN THE FIRST AFRICANIZED HONEY BEES SHOW UP THERE WAS PANIC, ARE THEY CALMING DOWN A LITTLE BIT?

NICK BAKER: I'VE RUN INTO SOME COLONIES THAT ARE NICE, BUT THAT'S MORE OF A RARE OCCASION. THEY REALLY DO HAVE THIS NASTY GENE THAT MAKES THEM MORE APT TO GET ANGRY AND UPSET BECAUSE THEY'RE PROTECTING THEIR FOOD SOURCE. THE ORIGINAL BEES CAME FROM AFRICA AND SO THEY HAD TO PROTECT WHAT THEY HAD. AND HERE THEY STILL CARRY THAT, I KNOW SOME BEEKEEPERS TRYING TO BREED THAT OUT. SOMETIMES I'LL TAKE BREAD QUEENS THAT WILL MATE WITH THE DRONES IN THE AREA AND THEY'LL COME BACK WITH THE AFRICANIZED BEES, AND THEY'LL BE CALM BUT MORE HYGIENIC.

TED SIMONS: PRODUCE MUCH BETTER -- IT'S SOMETHING TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT AND WATCH ON A WORLDWIDE LEVEL AND THE 3,000-FOOT VIEW BUT NOT NECESSARILY THE PANIC. WATCHING AND WAITING.

NICK BAKER: RIGHT, HERE IN ARIZONA, THE AFRICANIZED BEES ARE GROWING SO RAPIDLY, I THINK ARIZONA AT THE LEAST WILL BE OK.

TED SIMONS: GOOD TO HEAR THERE. THANKS FOR JOINING US.

NICK BAKER: ABSOLUTELY, I LOVE IT. THANKS.

Nick Baker

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