bee forage bee habitat

Occupy the barren landscape

When we think of bee forage, we usually think of vegetable plots, row crops, orchards, hedgerows, flower gardens, and meadows. But some of the best bee forage in the world comes in the form of trees—not only fruit trees—but trees like maple, chestnut, willow, basswood, locust, and alder. Some species provide only pollen, some only nectar, and some both, but in any case they are important food supplies for both honey bees and wild bees.

Unfortunately, treed areas are becoming scarce. In the southeastern United States, coal mining operations flatten mountains in order to extract the coal. Mountaintop removal, as the practice is called, leaves bees with nothing to eat for acres in all directions. Local trees such as sourwood and tulip poplar, along with native shrubs and perennial flowering plants, are typically replaced with non-native grasses that do nothing for bees.

Here in western Washington, our Department of Natural Resources routinely sprays new plantings of Douglas-fir with herbicides designed the kill the maple, alder, elderberry, bitter cherry, and cascara that normally appear in newly logged areas. The purpose, of course, is to give the “economically important” species a head start. But it seems short-sighted. Instead of a healthy recovery with multiple species in a complex habitat, you get the same type of monocrop seen in agricultural areas—with similar problems.

As I hike the state forests, I’m amazed and distraught at the number of warning signs posted by the DNR which list the panoply of herbicides that will be (or were recently) sprayed. Not only do I think it’s an unnecessary and questionable practice, but I wonder that any state so deeply in debt can afford to purchase and apply all those expensive chemicals. Surely there’s a better use for public money than poisoning the land while making the rich corporations even richer.

We beekeepers need to spend less time blaming each other for trivia (you should/shouldn’t feed sugar, you should/shouldn’t stop swarming, you should/shouldn’t provide ventilation) and go after some of the serious problems we have as a nation. We need to occupy the stripped mountains, the clear cuts, and the monocrops until we make our voices heard.


Mountaintop removal = bee removal. Photo by Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.


  • It seems when it comes to state and national resources, the simple and easy trip is to the ‘bottom line’ vs the labyrinth of wise alternatives.

    Thanks for being sensitive to this important issue and speaking out.

  • I couldn’t agree more. I see loss of habitat and forage as the biggest threat facing bees everywhere. Meanwhile the media distracts everyone with talk of mobile phone signals killing bees. In London the limes, horse chestnuts and fruit trees that often line the streets of our suburbs are very important for our bees. Luckily as far as I know the local council doesn’t spray them, but they do insist on keeping monofields of short grass in the parks.

    Sorry to be pedantic but I think you have a typo in your title – you probably mean ‘barren’, not ‘barron’.

  • I am very fortunate to live by a lot of (small) wooded areas. But there are a lot of cornfields in Indiana, including right behind, in front, and on either side of my house, which is perfectly poisonous as well.

  • It’s an odd thing. The world of life on this planet made humans, but it didn’t clean up after itself when it was done. It left all kinds of useless junk laying around. You know, plants and animals that humans don’t use for anything.

    It’s all right, though. We’ll clean up nature’s mess for her. We have pesticides and herbicides and guns and traps. Before you know it, this place is gonna be looking great. No useless species cluttering the place up — just humans, and human food, and food for human food.

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