Helping Washington State Bees and Beekeepers – action in Olympia

As mentioned at the January PSBA meeting, a Honey Bee Awareness Day will be held on Thursday, March 5 on the North steps outside the Capitol legislative building, starting at 9:00 AM.   In addition, please be aware of the opportunity to give input at a public hearing on Feb 4th concerning noxious weed control and honey bee forage.

All who are interested in helping raise awareness to issues facing Honey Bees and Beekeepers in Washington State are invited to participate.  Issues outlined by the Washington Honey Bee Work Group* will be the focus of the Honey Bee Awareness Day in Olympia.  Please get in touch with for more information about this and future events.

There are currently two bills which are of interest to Beekeepers:

SB 5017 – Defining honey bee products and services as an agricultural product.

Senate bill report that outlines SB 5017:

HB 1654Controlling noxious weeds while still supporting pollen-rich forage plant communities for honey bees.  Scheduled for public hearing on February 4th in the House Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources at 8:00 AM.(subject to change).

Report outlinine HB 1654:

 *The work of the legislatively-mandated statewide Honey Bee Work Group, which PSBA’s past President, Krista Conner was a contributor, is now complete.  The group met for more than a year, gathering data and presenting a comprehensive report on issues facing bees and beekeepers in Washington State.  The full report with recommendations can be found here.

Earlier this month the Honey Bee Work Group issued this press release:

Washington State Work Group focuses on helping honeybees and beekeepers

Recommends, among other things, improving forage to help bees thrive

“If you want to help bees, plant flowers,” said Washington State University Island County Extension Director Dr. Tim Lawrence, a bee researcher and member of the Honey Bee Work Group. “We need acres and acres of flowers.”

Honeybees play a key role in Washington State economics and agriculture. In 2012, honeybees made it possible for fruit, vegetable and seed crops to add billions of dollars in harvest value, including nearly $3 billion from tree fruit and berries. The bees also added nearly $4 million from the sale of their honey, but their chief value to humans is as pollinators.

Nearly one third of the food we eat has been pollinated, and managed honeybees play a crucial role in our food production. Over the past several years, there has been a significant loss in honeybees, as well as other pollinators. The pollinator losses have been so severe that on June 20, 2014, a White House memorandum on pollinator health noted “the continued loss of commercial honeybee colonies poses a threat to the economic stability of commercial beekeeper and pollinator operations in the United States, which could have profound implications for agriculture and food.”

In 2013, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) convened a work group to address challenges facing beekeepers in Washington and to offer solutions. The group included both large-scale commercial beekeepers as well as small-scale urban and suburban beekeepers from across Washington. These beekeepers have many years of experience and a knowledge base that goes back far before the current focus on Colony Collapse Disorder, or “CCD”, and can offer unique insight into the interrelated complexities of modern beekeeping. There was also representation from the fruit and seed industries and academic research community. In a report recently published by WSDA, the group concluded that a combination of efforts will help bees stay healthy and their beekeepers remain competitive, including:

  • Concentrating on honeybee health and habitat
  • Focusing on better data, resources and awareness
  • Considering issues of colony registration and industry taxation.

Many proposed solutions focus on promoting bee-friendly practices among beekeepers, farmers, state land managers, and weed control boards.

“It’s going to involve huge amounts of education and coordination,” said Ephrata commercial beekeeper and work group member Tim Hiatt. “We want a beekeeping industry that is stable and growing. Efforts made by home owners, developers, farmers, public and private land managers, and concerned citizens will all support providing a better environment for bees in Washington State.”

The new report stresses restoring habitat as the best way to help honeybees in Washington. Problems include loss of rural land, farming practices that reduce plant diversity and noxious weed control that takes out plants without replacing the forage needed by bees. Pesticide misuse is another threat, but the report does not support banning neonicotinoids at this time — pesticides that are restricted by such local jurisdictions as Seattle, Spokane and Thurston County, and in Europe.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Funding a WSU extension agent and researcher to advise beekeepers.
  • Funding a WSU pollination ecologist to advise producers and public agencies.
  • Expand the scope of ongoing bee research at Washington State University.
  • Include beekeepers as “farmers” in state taxation categories to level the playing field with out of state beekeepers.
  • Enable more placements of colonies on state lands and encourage state agencies to provide healthy bee habitat.

In response to one recommendation, WSDA will convene another group to develop a state pollinator protection plan. That group will be charged with writing rules on pesticide use. If approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, the rules will be an option to federal laws.