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Fate of the bumblebee: "More important than the president"

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While humans pontificate grandly about ecological realities and drop bombs on each other without mercy, some of the little beings of nature are going away, perhaps increasingly taking with them our human ability to subsist on this wonderful planet that many of us identify as mother earth.

Some 20 years ago, walking in the Adirondack Mountains, Ray Fadden (Tehanetorens), grand old man of the Mohawks, pointed to a bumblebee flying by. ìThat one,î Fadden said, ìis more important than the president of the United States.î

Keen indigenous observer of the patterns and flows of nature, Fadden was also a science teacher of many decades and a succinct and intelligent lecturer. Combative to a pure fault, he flailed most of all at the white manís continual ability to ignore the evidence of natureís severely interrupted and devitalized systems. Over his own lifetime, the respected teacher of generations of Mohawk children would report how he had seen the insect life diminished. In the forests he had roamed from his youth in the 1920s and 1930s, this reduction in life force had affected everything else, from amphibians to beaver to berries and fish, and how this at that time was leading to the starvation of the bears.

As catastrophic climate changes become the common reality and plant variety is poisoned and groomed out of nature, recent reports from Europe are starting to detail a severe loss of supremely important insect life. Le Monde (July 22) reports that ìpollinating insects ... indispensable to the reproduction of the 80 percent of terrestrial vegetation represented by flowering plants that produce seeds ... This indispensable service nature has provided for 140 million years is seriously threatened by the recent loss particularly of wild bees, which have declined in England by 52 percent since 1980 and in the Netherlands by 67 percent.î

The decrease in biodiversity is severe enough that worried scientists are seeking to implement immediate solutions. Jacobus Biesmeijer and William Kunin (Leeds University, England) and a team of British, German and Dutch researchers published their studyís results in the July 21 issue of Science. The study ìconfirms that the threat is serious.î

The ìpollination crisisî might be missed in the midst of severe environmental disasters like drought and flooding, huge oil spills, global warming and nuclear dust issues that impact the world, but we would do well to keep our eye on that ìlittle bumblebeeî of Faddenís as a symbol of all bee life, which in a central way is the key to life for much of the agriculture upon which humanity depends.

Wild bees fly between flowers to gather pollen. The male fertilizes material as he gathers, transporting it to the stigma of a female flower, thereby inducing fertilization. This is the hugely important, unbroken chain of spring fertilization that creates plant life every new season. The European study mirrors the situation in North America, where scientists are equally concerned because ìwhatever the cause, the study strongly suggests that the decline of several species can set off a cascade of local extinction among other associated species.î

In Great Britain, researchers confirmed, the distribution of 75 wild plants which must be pollinated by insects decreased, while the distribution of 30 others that are pollinated by wind or water was, on the contrary, more widespread. In the Netherlands, plants pollinated by wild bees are also declining. Jacobus Biesmeijer and William Kunin consequently suggest a cause-and-effect link between the pollinating insectsí decline and that of the pollinated plants.

The material cited is one more example of important natural signals being identified globally resulting from industrial-scale agricultural practices and the changing climate and weather patterns in the world. The impact of declining pollinators can be particularly severe in countries such as the United States and Canada, where large open fields are naturally pollinated now. Tragically, the vast open fields of American agriculture are becoming saturated with toxic plant and insect-killing chemicals that wreak havoc on bees and other pollinating insects. The native wild species as well as the useful European honeybee, here since around 1600, are severely diminished as a result, according to the journal OnEarth, published by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Flowers, wild woods and shrubs that have supported adequate bee populations are eradicated, mostly with highly toxic chemical products. Wild shrubs like redbud, buckthorn and ceanothus, rich in pollen, get eliminated for monocrops that donít support bees. All of North Americaís 4,500 species of native bees are at risk of extinction, including the lemon-yellow bumblebees pointed out by Fadden. Recent research by the university of California at Berkeley shows that among bees, among the best pollinators are bumblebees and squash bees ahead of the commercial honeybee. A diversity of bee species is the best insurance, the study found, as they tend to fluctuate in populations and migrations in any given season.

There are laws on the books in the United States (i.e., the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act), but they are largely not enforced. Overall, there is little rationale to aggressively govern the chemical insult of modern industrial farming on inter-related ecosystems. While one farmer moves to kill corn rootworm and chooses to apply the efficient Penn-cap M, this highly toxic, long-life nerve poison will also wipe out whole colonies of native bees. The industrious bees eat, pack and carry back the toxic nodules for immediate and storage feeding. The whole colony is killed, sometimes in a large repeating pattern.

Commercial honeybees are also in decline. In commercial practice, hives are often moved in search of strongly blooming pastures and gardens. Beekeepers used to pay farmers for the privilege of bringing their hives onto their blooming fields, but now farmers pay beekeepers for the much-needed pollination their bees provide. Those fees are quickly rising.

Since the 1940s, commercial hives have dropped by more than half, from about 5 million to 2.3 million. Major bee kills from newly applied pesticides are the main reason. Of commercial honeybee hives, one-third died off in the United States in 2005, a huge drop that panicked Californiaís Central Valley. Varroa mite infestation is one major cause, but ongoing research shows compounded causes that point to toxic chemical elements. For example, the pesticide Sevin has proved to be severely toxic, wiping out some 50 percent of local bee hives when sprayed by International Paper Co. on poplar plantations to kill leaf beetles.

In the book ìForgotten Pollinators,î authors Gary Nabhan and Stephen Buchmann make the case for the necessary survival of the pollinators, particularly the native species, many of which, like the alkali bee with alfalfa, are crucial for specific crops. Thus they share elder Ray Faddenís admonition about of the greatest pollinator of all. ìThat little bumblebee,î the elder said, ìis more important than the president of the United States.î

While humans pontificate grandly about ecological realities and drop bombs on each other without mercy, some of the little beings of nature are going away, perhaps increasingly taking with them our human ability to subsist on this wonderful planet that many of us identify as mother earth.Some 20 years ago, walking in the Adirondack Mountains, Ray Fadden (Tehanetorens), grand old man of the Mohawks, pointed to a bumblebee flying by. ìThat one,î Fadden said, ìis more important than the president of the United States.îKeen indigenous observer of the patterns and flows of nature, Fadden was also a science teacher of many decades and a succinct and intelligent lecturer. Combative to a pure fault, he flailed most of all at the white manís continual ability to ignore the evidence of natureís severely interrupted and devitalized systems. Over his own lifetime, the respected teacher of generations of Mohawk children would report how he had seen the insect life diminished. In the forests he had roamed from his youth in the 1920s and 1930s, this reduction in life force had affected everything else, from amphibians to beaver to berries and fish, and how this at that time was leading to the starvation of the bears.As catastrophic climate changes become the common reality and plant variety is poisoned and groomed out of nature, recent reports from Europe are starting to detail a severe loss of supremely important insect life. Le Monde (July 22) reports that ìpollinating insects ... indispensable to the reproduction of the 80 percent of terrestrial vegetation represented by flowering plants that produce seeds ... This indispensable service nature has provided for 140 million years is seriously threatened by the recent loss particularly of wild bees, which have declined in England by 52 percent since 1980 and in the Netherlands by 67 percent.îThe decrease in biodiversity is severe enough that worried scientists are seeking to implement immediate solutions. Jacobus Biesmeijer and William Kunin (Leeds University, England) and a team of British, German and Dutch researchers published their studyís results in the July 21 issue of Science. The study ìconfirms that the threat is serious.îThe ìpollination crisisî might be missed in the midst of severe environmental disasters like drought and flooding, huge oil spills, global warming and nuclear dust issues that impact the world, but we would do well to keep our eye on that ìlittle bumblebeeî of Faddenís as a symbol of all bee life, which in a central way is the key to life for much of the agriculture upon which humanity depends.Wild bees fly between flowers to gather pollen. The male fertilizes material as he gathers, transporting it to the stigma of a female flower, thereby inducing fertilization. This is the hugely important, unbroken chain of spring fertilization that creates plant life every new season. The European study mirrors the situation in North America, where scientists are equally concerned because ìwhatever the cause, the study strongly suggests that the decline of several species can set off a cascade of local extinction among other associated species.îIn Great Britain, researchers confirmed, the distribution of 75 wild plants which must be pollinated by insects decreased, while the distribution of 30 others that are pollinated by wind or water was, on the contrary, more widespread. In the Netherlands, plants pollinated by wild bees are also declining. Jacobus Biesmeijer and William Kunin consequently suggest a cause-and-effect link between the pollinating insectsí decline and that of the pollinated plants.The material cited is one more example of important natural signals being identified globally resulting from industrial-scale agricultural practices and the changing climate and weather patterns in the world. The impact of declining pollinators can be particularly severe in countries such as the United States and Canada, where large open fields are naturally pollinated now. Tragically, the vast open fields of American agriculture are becoming saturated with toxic plant and insect-killing chemicals that wreak havoc on bees and other pollinating insects. The native wild species as well as the useful European honeybee, here since around 1600, are severely diminished as a result, according to the journal OnEarth, published by the Natural Resources Defense Council.Flowers, wild woods and shrubs that have supported adequate bee populations are eradicated, mostly with highly toxic chemical products. Wild shrubs like redbud, buckthorn and ceanothus, rich in pollen, get eliminated for monocrops that donít support bees. All of North Americaís 4,500 species of native bees are at risk of extinction, including the lemon-yellow bumblebees pointed out by Fadden. Recent research by the university of California at Berkeley shows that among bees, among the best pollinators are bumblebees and squash bees ahead of the commercial honeybee. A diversity of bee species is the best insurance, the study found, as they tend to fluctuate in populations and migrations in any given season.There are laws on the books in the United States (i.e., the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act), but they are largely not enforced. Overall, there is little rationale to aggressively govern the chemical insult of modern industrial farming on inter-related ecosystems. While one farmer moves to kill corn rootworm and chooses to apply the efficient Penn-cap M, this highly toxic, long-life nerve poison will also wipe out whole colonies of native bees. The industrious bees eat, pack and carry back the toxic nodules for immediate and storage feeding. The whole colony is killed, sometimes in a large repeating pattern.Commercial honeybees are also in decline. In commercial practice, hives are often moved in search of strongly blooming pastures and gardens. Beekeepers used to pay farmers for the privilege of bringing their hives onto their blooming fields, but now farmers pay beekeepers for the much-needed pollination their bees provide. Those fees are quickly rising.Since the 1940s, commercial hives have dropped by more than half, from about 5 million to 2.3 million. Major bee kills from newly applied pesticides are the main reason. Of commercial honeybee hives, one-third died off in the United States in 2005, a huge drop that panicked Californiaís Central Valley. Varroa mite infestation is one major cause, but ongoing research shows compounded causes that point to toxic chemical elements. For example, the pesticide Sevin has proved to be severely toxic, wiping out some 50 percent of local bee hives when sprayed by International Paper Co. on poplar plantations to kill leaf beetles. In the book ìForgotten Pollinators,î authors Gary Nabhan and Stephen Buchmann make the case for the necessary survival of the pollinators, particularly the native species, many of which, like the alkali bee with alfalfa, are crucial for specific crops. Thus they share elder Ray Faddenís admonition about of the greatest pollinator of all. ìThat little bumblebee,î the elder said, ìis more important than the president of the United States.î