Rough time for bees on North Olympic Peninsula

By Paige Dickerson, Peninsula Daily News

For the first time since he moved to the North Olympic Peninsula three decades ago, a strange silence will surround Dave Myhre's home.

The hobbyist beekeeper no longer has bees in his 10 hives.

Sometime between the time they were tucked quietly away in their hives for the winter, and a nice day in January when he checked on them, the bees vanished.

"It will be really strange this spring not to have the bees around," the Port Ludlow-area resident said.

Myhre, who said he is awaiting the delivery of some new bees, said he believes the problem is linked to a strain of the fungus — nosema ceranae.

The arrival of the fungus in the North Olympic Peninsula, which had largely escaped the inexplicable Colony Collapse Disorder that has decimated hives in other parts of the country, has hurt several beekeepers.

The strain of fungus seen in the hives grows best in cold, rainy winters.

Unlike some of the other strains, the pathogen doesn't have as many obvious symptoms leading up to the death of the bees.

Usually the bees will die near the hives, but Myhre believes his died when they left the hive for food.

"There was about 100 that were dead in the nests, but all the rest had vanished."

Breeder loses hives
Dan Harvey, a professional queen bee breeder who owns Olympic Wilderness Apiary in Joyce, said that the new strand of nosema has hit the Peninsula hard.

Harvey once had about 150 hives, but is down to about 75 after the fungus killed off many of his bees.

He said he hadn't been treating the bees with the chemicals because the philosophy of the apiary is to stay away from chemical solutions, and to build up bee resistance through breeding.

However, since he received lab results, he has treated his remaining bees, and advised all the beekeepers he knows to do the same.

"The lab technician called me and said that before this most recent breakout, he had never seen spore counts higher than 5 million per bee," Harvey said.

"But in the latest test, there was one bee that had 142 million — in one bee."

"The lab e-mailed us and said that they had never seen anything like it."

The strain of fungus is more resistant to treatment than other strains, he said, so the chemical to treat it is less effective than it has been.

There could be hope. though.

Harvey said some of the surviving queen bees — mostly wild bees that were native to the West End —are showing an encouraging resistance to the fungus.

"There could be a silver lining," he said.

"This could end up showing that through breeding a resistance could be inherited."

Other losses
Les Tavenner, a hobbyist beekeeper in Port Townsend, said that he has had losses from disease, but not lately, and not from fungus.

"My worst loss was a few years back I lost about 80 percent of my hives to mites," he said.

Coleman Byrnes, president of the North Olympic Peninsula Beekeepers Association and a hobbyist beekeeper himself, said he has lost about half of his hives.

He's not sure why.

"Last year, we had a really late spring, a short summer and a hard winter," he said.

"The bees starve mostly."

He said he hadn't seen obvious symptoms of nosema fungus, but that he was still investigating the cause of the losses.

He also said he had been treating bees with a medicine meant to fend off the fungus.

Walter Schicker, another Jefferson County keeper, said he has lost five of his seven to mites.

Mark Urnes, a Port Angeles-area beekeeper, said that he had two hives that he tended to as a hobby, but both were lost.

He said he had not yet determined what caused the deaths.

"I think it is really early, and I'm not sure what I would look for right now," Urnes said.

"Hopefully as we get warmer weather, it will start to go away."

Native bees
Bees are often used to pollinate crops, sometimes professional beekeepers transport their bees to pollinate orchards and large fields of crops.

"Nearly everything we eat is touched by bees," Ed Giersch, a hobbyist beekeeper in Clallam County, said.

"Beef — well what do you think that they are feeding the beef? Alfalfa, which is pollinated by bees.

"Everything from the apple you eat is touched by bees."

Although the problem worldwide could lead to changing eating habits based on unavailability of certain crops, Giersch said, that on the Peninsula, beekeeping is less of a regional necessity and more of a hobby and business for honey.

Native bees could take over pollination on the Peninsula should the imported bees die out, said Judi Stewart, a Jefferson County Master Gardener and member of the Jefferson Fruit Club.

"About 250 mason bees — our local native bees — could do the work of 50,000 honeybees," she said.

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Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or paige.dickerson@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 15. 2008 9:00PM
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