In the sunny and tranquil village of Islamorada in the Florida Keys, beekeeper Jamie Hulet was caught off guard by a spray of pesticide. She writes: “We had a mosquito plane fly overhead this morning around 0700 and the chemicals they released killed thousands of bees. I have four Langstroth hives and all of them have piles of dead bees around them, as well as all over my property.”
Every year I hear stories like this, often from southern states that have problems with mosquitoes. But other states also have issues, especially in agricultural areas. What’s a beekeeper to do?
There seems to be a lot of variability in how much notice you get about spraying—if any—and how the word is spread—if at all. Here where I live, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources manages the Capitol State Forest and other lands. Over the years they have worked with us on several occasions, and we regularly get written announcements of management activities such as spraying and controlled burns. I consider our DNR to be an exceptionally good neighbor.
Many years ago when I lived in San Diego County (before Internet), spraying schedules were published in local newspapers. I don’t know how it’s done now, but back then I appreciated the updates. Even if you happened to miss the article, there was enough lead time that word spread.
However, not all jurisdictions are so courteous. Jamie was not aware there was a contact list for the Keys, so she had no notice and her bees paid the ultimate price. Once she discovered who to contact, she was told they only give about 12 hours notice.
How much notice is necessary?
The way I see it, if you tell me at 7 am that my property will be sprayed at 7 pm, there is little I can do for my bees. They are already out and about and I can’t go round them up. It seems like 24 hours should be a minimum.
Jamie was told the schedule changes quickly along with wind patterns, so the go or no-go decision can switch rapidly. Still, it seems like they could schedule in advance and give ample notice. Then, if it didn’t happen, there would be no dire consequence. They could just reschedule and try again.
Collateral damage from mosquito spraying
From an environmental point of view, the collateral damage from such spraying must be huge. Jamie said, “I live about 100 feet from the Atlantic Ocean. I can’t understand why mosquito planes are allowed to fly over the ocean and Florida Bay dropping these chemicals on the aquatic life.”
I agree and, naturally, my first thought was the native bees—the ones no one can protect. When I mentioned it to my husband, his first thought was the birds: either they eat poisoned insects (and fish) or else there is nothing left to eat and the birds starve. They can die either way.
While there is certainly the issue of human health and mosquito-borne disease, there is also the question of what happens after we kill everything that supports human life. I often wonder if spraying isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to “The government must do something!” rather than a well-reasoned plan for long-range health and prosperity for both humans and the planet.
Jamie added, “I’ve been reading a few news articles online about beekeepers complaining about the planes in other states, but it doesn’t seem like there has been any changes based on complaints. There is not a strong community of beekeepers in the Florida Keys so I’m not sure how much my one voice will make a difference.”
I can sympathize with that thought. As our population continues to expand, each individual voice is a lesser part of the whole. Still, we shouldn’t give up. We need people who speak up and make us aware, even if it seems fruitless much of the time.
What is your experience?
Jamie and I are interested in knowing if you’ve ever had problems with spraying and, if so, how those problems were resolved—or not. It’s definitely an ongoing conflict, and as soon as I think reasonableness will ultimately prevail, something like this happens again. So please let us know: What’s a beekeeper to do? What did you do?
Honey Bee Suite