Solution to dying bee colonies may be in your backyard

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- If you had 50,000 or 60,000 thousand bees swarming your backyard you'd probably call an exterminator.

Charles Wilson calls it a hobby.

"I've been stung about eight times," said Wilson, a backyard beekeeper who also serves as the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner of his Anacostia district.

"When I was a kid I used to take the easy way out a lot. When it came to the science fairs I did the volcano every year. So, I said, 'this is the perfect time for me to kind of redeem myself and have my own science project in my backyard,'" explained Wilson.

The more than 60,000 honeybees that Wilson keeps in his backyard are but a blip compared to the billions of bees that have been dying worldwide taking with them millions of colonies, referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder, in the last several years. Despite all the buzz, there are still more questions than answers.

"Honeybee populations all over the world have been dramatically declining in the last decade and no one seems to know why," said David Epstein, a senior entomologist at the USDA.

This decline is threatening $15 billion worth of U.S. produce bees pollinate each year, one-third of the food we eat.

The USDA is investing tens of millions of dollars toward studying and solving the problem.

"For about the last decade or so we've seen unusual decline in the number of colonies that survive the wintering," said Epstein.

The USDA is working with universities and organizations around the country in the hopes of identifying the problems and finding solutions.

John Burand, a professor of microbiology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, points to several contributing causes for the decline in bee colonies.

Bees are not receiving the sustenance they need, this poor nutrition makes them more susceptible to new diseases. While pollinating, bees have encountered an increased use of plant pesticides in farming practices. There are new parasites that have been introduced to bee populations in the last 25 years that are decimating bee colonies. Burand said genetics - how bees are being bred - are also to blame. Finally, habitat loss.

Wilson knows that a continued loss in the bee population is a loss for humans.

"Without the honeybee, one-third of the food that we eat would disappear - strawberries, blue berries, almonds - all that stuff actually takes the pollination of a bee," explained Wilson.

Experts hope that backyard beekeepers, like Wilson, can help keep the bees pollinating.

"Having bees in your backyard is not only fascinating but it can help also. Providing forage across the landscape for them," said Epstein.

Beekeepers can help, added Epstein, by planting pollinator friendly plants that give bees that sustenance they need.

Backyard beekeeping can also add healthy bees to the local population, subsequently strengthening the bee gene pool.

But Epstein admitted, while they're working like busy bees to save our important friends, there's no quick fix.

He said, "There are many things being done but none of it happens over night. Science doesn't work that way."


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