A global environmental issue that hits close to home was recently brought to the attention of Pemberton council. The subject? Bees.
Councillor Jennie Helmer, who is also an organic farmer, brought the issue up at last week’s council meeting, citing the emergence of a mysterious new plight that has befallen honeybees: Colony Collapse Disorder.
Widespread in the U.S., CCD suddenly kills off entire colonies. Adult bees rapidly leave the hive, leaving behind young larvae and pupae and some young worker bees and the queen, who are unable to care for the young, leading to the collapse of the colony.
While the CCD phenomenon witnessed in the U.S. hasn’t arrived in Canada, yet, the president of the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists says they have seen higher rates of winter mortality.
Stephen Pernal said about 15 per cent of Canadian colonies typically don’t make it through the winter. But last year, that mortality rate doubled, to about 30 per cent.
“The concern is if we sustain that rate of loss again coming out of this winter, it’s really going to have a major impact on our industry,” said Pernal.
He added that it is particularly disconcerting that these bees often disappear without a trace. While no one knows why this is happening, there are many theories.
The issue caught Helmer’s attention recently, after she heard that a major cause of CCD might be a new chemical spray being used. Helmer explained that bees typically fly three to five kilometres from their hives, and return without a problem, but this new spray may interfere with the bees’ homing mechanisms.
Being an organic farmer, she was naturally interested in the issue, and after researching CCD, decided to try keeping bees last year. She soon discovered that the Village of Pemberton has a bee bylaw on the books, preventing people who live in the village from keeping bees. Since Helmer’s farm is in the SLRD, the bylaw doesn’t affect her personally, but she wanted to bring the issue to the attention of the public.
“When I saw that we had this bylaw, and given current circumstances and where I think we’re headed, it seems crazy to me to not let people keep bees here, because they really are not aggressive in any way,” said Helmer.
She thinks the bylaw was created in 2000, after the neighbour of a beekeeper was stung, but says it’s time to consider changing their policy.
“At the time, I think there wasn’t as much awareness around the importance of bees and their relative gentleness.”