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Editor's Note

Bees and BW


By now it's a familiar story. When Pennsylvania beekeeper David Hackenberg went to check his hives, he discovered vast numbers of them had failed--either the bees were dead, or simply missing. That was in 2006. Hackenberg didn't stay quiet about his catastrophic bee loss, raising the alarm with enough fellow beekeepers and experts that the phenomenon--now known as Colony Collapse Disorder--made its way into the media. By early 2007, with reports of similar occurrences around the world, CCD became international news.

Seven years later, scientists and apiarists still don't know what's gone wrong with the bees, but they're certain that it's continuing. Climate change, pollution and parasites have all been fingered as culprits, though without definitive evidence. Now blame is being shifted to a family of chemical pesticides known as neonicotinoids.

Neonics, as they're called, work by overloading the same cell receptors that, in humans and other mammals, are stimulated by nicotine--in essence, the bugs are buzzed to death.

The chemical family has been lauded by agriculturalists for its specificity--neonics are far more damaging to insects than mammals--but many researchers now fear that bees are being caught in its snare. And that snare is wide: The neonicotinoid imidacloprid is today the most heavily used insecticide worldwide.

Neonics came into use in 1994, and Idaho was one of the places where they were first applied to crops. The Gem State has not been immune to mass bee deaths in that time.

As with pollution, parasites and climate change, the evidence linking neonics with CCD is still inconclusive, and the debate over whether the chemicals are responsible for bee mortality goes all the way from international researchers to individual beekeepers in the Treasure Valley.

On Page 11, staff writer Jessica Murri delves into the contradictory world of neonics and their alleged threat to bee populations. What could have been a story of beekeepers vs. big ag turned out to be much more complicated. The only point no one seems to be debating is that without bees we're busted, and the bees are most definitely not alright.

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