by Cheryl Y. Marcum

Please publish this news story to augment your Sac Osage Electric Cooperative annual meeting coverage. Sac Osage Electric Cooperative tests pollinator-friendly brush control near apiaries.

During the 2018 easement spraying season, the Sac Osage Electric Cooperative board of directors agreed to test a pollinator friendly method of brush control within a one mile radius of apiaries marked on their map.

The Stockton Busy Bee Club initiated a conversation with Sac Osage leadership in February 2017, requesting they avoid spraying near members’ apiaries. In February 2018, the Busy Bee Club liaison to Sac Osage, Sharron Gough, a beekeeper and retired wildlife biologist, addressed the board of directors and proposed a five-year test of the basal bark method of brush control. The board agreed to test it during the 2018 spraying cycle.

Gough publicly expressed the club’s appreciation by speaking at the annual Sac Osage business meeting, June 12. For the benefit of cooperative members who were absent and the general public, her remarks follow.

“On behalf of the Stockton Busy Bee Club, I would like to thank the Sac Osage Board of Directors for its decision to test a more environmentally friendly method of brush control in the vicinity of our bee hives. The loss of honey bees has become a global concern over the past two decades. Last year we lost 31 percent in the U.S. The year before that it was 44 percent. In 2015, it was 35 percent. Over the last 10 years losses in the U.S. have ranged from 25 to 40 percent almost annually.”

“Research done in 2010 indicates that insect pollination, primarily from honey bees, accounts for $29 billion to our farm economy. But it’s not just about farmers or beekeepers. As pollinator losses continue, food will become more expensive, which we already see happening with almonds. China is actually hand-pollinating in order to produce apples and pears because of the collapse of the habitats that once supported their bees.”

“The thing you don’t hear talked about as much is that the type of foods that depend on bee pollination are the healthiest foods for us to eat. They are the fruits, vegetables, berries and herbs that are so critical to our health and well-being because of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants they contain. If health is not an issue for you, bear in mind that these are also the fruits we like to make pies with.”

“The nutrient density of these foods is relatively lacking in the cheap grain-based foods coming from grasses, which tend to be wind-pollinated. The toxic pesticides to which bees are exposed tops the list of suspects for causing bee losses. Way too many different chemicals are being applied everywhere and all the time to be able to tell which one or what mixtures are the worst.

“Yet, we do know that when a chemical group called neonicotinoids was banned in Europe, bee populations went back up, indicating that these poisons are taking a toll on bees. More importantly, it indicates that decreasing the use of these poisons has a significant positive effect.”

“So we very much appreciate the Sac Osage board taking the initiative to try an approach to brush control that can be done in the dormant season when the bees are not actively foraging. This year, the Sac Osage contractor, Asplundh, will test an application method called basal bark treatment within one mile of each marked bee hive. Instead of spraying large volumes of leaves of the brushy plants in the spring and summer when bees are out in force, they will apply chemical to just the lower 15 inches of woody stems during the fall when bees are not flying.”

“According to the Department of Conservation managers we interviewed, the basal bark method is 100 percent effective, uses far less chemical, and can be done at least as quickly as the foliar spray method that has typically been used on cooperative easements. Stockton Busy Bee Club members recognize that it takes more time and thought and effort to change the way we do anything. We applaud the board’s willingness to give this method a try. And we ask fellow cooperative members to give them a big thumbs-up when you see them out there maintaining the easements this fall!”

The Sac Osage policy to cut, spray and trim applies to woody species only, trees and shrubbery. If residents see dead non-woody species, such as a bee favorite, Monarda, in a cooperative easement extending from the road to the fence, Sac Osage Electric Cooperative needs to know.

Marcum is a beekeeper and secretary of Stockton Busy Bee Club.

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