OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

Recycling efforts jump on campus

CORVALLIS - Oregon State University appears on its way to setting a new high in recycling, with the campus reclaiming about 1,050 pounds of paper per student in 1996 - a 10 percent jump from 1995 figures, said David Garcia, campus recycling coordinator.

During 1995, OSU recycled 1.37 million pounds of paper, which was a 17 percent jump over 1994, Garcia said. Now, with only three months left in 1996, the figure is up 10 percent from last year.

"Based on information from our yearly waste audit, this gain is due to increases in both the rate of recycling and the use of paper," he said.

Recycling efforts continue to grow at the campus of about 14,000 students. About 46 percent of all OSU's waste is recycled and of the remaining 54 percent thrown in the trash, 21 percent could be recycled.

In an effort to reduce paper use on campus, the university is launching a campaign to convince staff and students to use both sides of every sheet of paper.

"By using both sides of every sheet of paper, we reduce the amount of paper and the amount of file cabinet space required. Our goal this year is for all students to be able to turn in assignments on double-sided paper and for all office correspondences and forms to be double-sided," Garcia said.

Source: 

David Garcia, 541-737-3574

OSU aquaculture program receives $13.7 million

CORVALLIS - A $13.7 million federal grant will allow a global aquaculture program based at Oregon State University to continue into the 21st century.

The five-year grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development will fund the Pond Dynamics-Aquaculture Collaborative Research Support Program to 2001, said Hillary Egna, program director.

The program began in 1982 as a global venture to aid aquaculture, or "pond farming," in developing countries. Much of the research is centered in raising fish or shrimp to bolster food supplies in countries including the Philippines, Thailand, Honduras, Egypt and Rwanda.

Raising bigger fish faster is one goal, said Martin Fitzpatrick, OSU assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife. "The main technique to increase the size of the fish now is to feed the fish steroids over three to four weeks," he said.

Researchers in the Collaborative Research Support Program are working to cut steroid conditioning to several hours to abate human health and environmental risks.

Fitzpatrick is working with tilapia, a tropical fish that grows to about a foot in length and weighs under two pounds.

Other facets of the program include sociology, agricultural economics, bioresource engineering, water quality and soil science. Program efforts help farmers improve incomes and feed more people without ruining resources.

Lessons learned overseas can often be imported to the United States to aid local aquaculture efforts. In addition, aiding less developed countries can open new markets for domestic producers, researchers say.

While OSU has technical, administrative and fiscal responsibility for carrying out the grant provisions, the aquaculture program is a joint effort of more than 100 professional and support personnel from U.S. universities.

Universities include: Auburn University; the University of California at Davis; University of Oklahoma; University of Delaware; Southern Illinois University; University of Texas; University of Michigan; University of Hawaii; University of Arizona; University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff; as well as OSU.

The program also benefits from the efforts of more than 75 scientists, technicians and graduate students in host countries.

Source: 

Hillary Egna, 541-737-6415

State climatologist shares recipe for flood

CORVALLIS - First, take a wetter than average winter. Saturate the ground and fill streams and reservoirs. Cover the foothills and mountains with a thick blanket of snow. Then chill and freeze the ground. Coat low elevation surfaces with freezing rain.

Then inundate the whole scenario with four days of subtropical rain. The result? A whopper of a flood.

The early February 1996 flood in northern Oregon and southern Washington was caused by the above rare sequence of events, explained George Taylor, state climatologist with the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University. Taylor will discuss his flood analyses at the upcoming annual OSU-sponsored James. A. Vomocil water quality conference at OSU's LaSells Stewart Center in Corvallis on Nov. 13.

"When you combine a wet winter with deep snowpack, frozen ground then four days of warm, intense rain, you have a recipe for a flood," said Taylor. "It was such a warm air mass that rain fell in all elevations except the highest Cascade crests."

Taylor is analyzing information from the 1996 flood in order to evaluate its significance for groups such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), land and water management agencies and flood insurance companies. He is trying to compare this flood with all others that have occurred since data recording began, generally in 1928.

By studying precipitation patterns, river flow levels, snow depths, and temperatures, weather station by weather station, county by county, month after month, year after year across the state, Taylor is looking for patterns and record-setting events.

"I am trying to evaluate the likelihood of this kind of thing occurring again," explained Taylor. "Was this a 100-year event? A 20-year event? Many land use and policy decisions get made based on analyses such as these.

"For example, flood insurance kicks in when you reach a certain flood return interval," he continued. "The location of the 100-year flood line in relation to a home or structure can determine whether reimbursement for damages occur. Our analyses help determine more accurately what a 100-year flood actually is."

State government is particularly interested in how often a flood of this magnitude might occur, he said.

"Planning requirements are different for 20-year events than for 100-year events," he said.

Some of Taylor's more interesting findings about the February 1996 flood include:

-The northern Oregon Coast Range area, near Tillamook, had the worst flooding in terms of historical record - probably greater than 100-year events.

-In the south end of the flood area around Eugene, it was probably only a 10-year event.

-Overall throughout northwestern Oregon, the flood was approximately a 25-year event. The flood of 1964 was a little more extreme over a larger area, from northern California through Washington, and eastward to Idaho.

-The Laurel Mountain area, in the Coast Range southwest of Salem, received more than 28 inches of rain in a four-day period. An area close by, west of Valsetz, is considered the rainiest area of Oregon.

-Human land uses can influence flooding patterns. Urbanization in the Tualatin Valley may have augmented flood heights there. Timber harvest activities in the Coast Range may have contributed to landslides that occurred.

Interested citizens, students, land owners, regulators, land use planners and managers and scientists are welcome to register for the water quality conference. For more information, write: Water Quality Conference, Dept. Bioresource Engineering, OSU, Gilmore Hall, Room. 116, Corvallis, OR 97331-3906 or call 541-737-4021.

Source: 

George Taylor, 541-737-5705

Bosses with 'green' values are more likely to over-comply with environmental rules, study says

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A business is more likely to "over-comply" with environmental regulations if its senior management believes in protecting the environment and that it makes financial sense in the long term, according to a new study by an economist at Oregon State University.

The study, published online in the Journal of Environmental Management and accepted for publication in its print version, examined why some firms violate environmental regulatory standards while others exceed them. It used data from a survey that 689 businesses in Oregon answered.

The study's author, OSU professor JunJie Wu, said the results could be useful to policymakers when developing strategies to reduce environmental violations and encourage firms to do more than regulations require.

"The results suggest that a narrow strategy to promote environmental over-compliance may not fare well," Wu said. "For example, offering technical and financial assistance to reduce compliance costs may be offset if these policies reduce competitive pressures. It's apparent that policymakers must avoid a one-size-fits-all approach and be innovative when designing environmental policies."

Among key findings of the study:

•    Pressures from consumers, investors and interest groups have no statistically significant impact on a firm's decision to violate or comply with environmental regulations. However, facilities that make products that are sold directly to consumers or offer services directly to them are less likely to violate the regulations.

•    Competitive market forces are significant factors in deterring environmental violations. These forces include investing in cleaner products to differentiate them from another company's, improving environmental performance to keep up with competitors, and being environmentally responsible to reduce employee turnover and increase productivity.

•    Costs and risks associated with environmentally friendly practices increase the probability of environmental violations and decrease the likelihood of environmental over-compliance. These costs and risks include high upfront investments, high day-to-day costs, uncertain future benefits, and downtime and delivery interruptions during implementation.

•    Smaller firms (ones with annual revenue of no more than $5 million) and publicly traded companies are more likely to violate environmental standards than companies that are bigger and privately owned.

•    Upper management's environmental values were one of the leading factors affecting a firm's decision about whether to over-comply with environmental standards.

"It's surprising that management's attitude toward environmental stewardship plays such a large role," Wu said. "Historically, economists believe that profit drives business decisions, but we've found that management's attitude affects a firm's decision about its compliance level. This doesn't mean, however, that profits don't play a role.

"It's also surprising that executives are willing to think beyond next quarter's earnings and spend money to adopt some environmental policies that might not benefit the company until perhaps much later."

The study is titled "Environmental Compliance: The Good, the Bad, and the Super Green." The survey that it was based on questioned firms that employed at least 10 workers and operated in six sectors: food manufacturing, wood product manufacturing, construction of buildings, truck transportation and hotels.

The survey included questions that asked what environmentally friendly practices they had implemented, which factors influenced their environmental management the most, and whether they had been sanctioned for environmental infractions.

The survey also asked them to rate their level of compliance with regulatory standards for water pollution, solid waste, toxic and hazardous waste, and hazardous air emissions. The study considered a facility to be in violation if it did not meet standards in at least one of these areas. It was considered in compliance if it did just enough to meet standards in all four areas. It was over-complying if it did more than the regulation required in at least one area and met standards in all other areas.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

JunJie Wu, 541-737-3060

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JunJie Wu

JunJie Wu, an economist at Oregon State University, conducted a study that found that a business is more likely to over-comply with environmental regulations if its senior management believes in protecting the environment and that it makes financial sense in the long term. Photo by Tiffany Woods.

Stream temperatures are biologically significant

CORVALLIS - Ongoing studies are showing that the mere presence of relatively clean water in Pacific Northwest streams isn't enough to keep salmon and trout thriving. The water also has to be cool.

Elevated water temperatures in the summer might mean trouble for salmon and trout and the food they eat, according to Oregon State University hydrologist Bob Beschta.

"Stream temperatures are an indirect indicator of the ecological condition of our rivers and streams - a measure of the state of the system," said Beschta, OSU hydrology professor in forest engineering. "Many of our streams in eastern Oregon are not well. They are too warm in the summer."

Beschta presented a talk entitled, "Stream Temperatures in Eastern Oregon - Are the Fish Really in Hot Water?" at the recent James A. Vomocil Water Quality Conference at OSU.

Recently, more than 500 segments of Oregon's rivers and streams were classified as "water quality limited" based on their high temperatures by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). OSU scientists, including Beschta and stream ecologist Stan Gregory, helped DEQ develop Oregon's standards for water temperatures necessary to comply with the Federal Clean Water Act.

"Our fish are indeed in hot water," said Beschta. "It amazes me that we still have salmon and trout in some of the places on the east side. It's a testimony to their ability to survive. But ultimately they will be gone if we don't do something.

"The fish are just barely surviving by seeking out cool water seeps on hot days," he added. "High stream temperatures are sometimes lethal for fish. Warm water handicaps their ability to maintain themselves. Temperature regulates the rates of process in biology.

"Everything that lives in a stream is affected by warm temperatures and warm stream temperatures are a common problem in eastern Oregon," he said.

The east side has open country interspersed with forest, more sunny days and relatively hot stream and river temperatures in basins such as the John Day and Grande Ronde.

"I'm not saying these stream systems did not get warm before land use such as logging and grazing in riparian systems," said Beschta. "They probably did. But there was generally more plant cover along steams and their channels were often narrower and more sinuous. There were no roads or ditches blocking the flow of cooler water underneath flood plains into the river. There were probably more cool places for fish to hide.

"Now many of the riparian ecosystems are not intact - streamside vegetation is often gone, channels are wider and shallower, with more sun hitting the water surface," he added. "Temperatures are high and it is tough if you're a fish."

Nevertheless, Beschta remains optimistic that water quality in Oregon's steams and rivers can be improved.

"We have learned that if we can keep streams shaded with vegetation, then we not only get less warming of the water - we also get many other benefits such as more diverse channel morphology, increased plant and animal material in the stream, increased bank strength from plant and tree roots and increased woody debris for fish habitat," he said.

"If we had 20 years of riparian restoration on eastside stream systems, we would see a large change toward better water quality," Beschta said. "We have a lot of opportunity to lower the water temperature through management practices in the state of Oregon. For those that disagree, I say `Let's do the experiments.' Demonstration areas make pretty honest science."

The annual James A. Vomocil Water Quality Conference is sponsored by the OSU Extension Service and the Oregon Water Resources Research Institute.

Source: 

Bob Beschta, 541-737-4292

OSU Conference to Focus on Public vs. Private Land Debate

CORVALLIS - Balancing the rights of the private land owner with the goals and needs of the public is becoming increasingly difficult and controversial as America's population swells and available land shrinks.

The issues arising from that conflict are the focus of a special conference Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 at Oregon State University.

Called "Land in the American West: Private Claims and the Common Good," the conference has drawn some of the top experts on public and private land issues from the Pacific Northwest and around the country. Registration for the entire conference is $15, though some of the events are free. All are open to the public.

"You see many of the issues involving the public-private debate in the news media every day," said William Robbins, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts at OSU and an organizer of the conference. "Urban sprawl, grazing rights, liveability, habitat for salmon, managing our national forests - these are all issues that balance the rights of individuals with the 'common good.'"

Speakers at the conference - many of whom have opposing viewpoints -include political scientists, legal scholars, historians, economists, representatives of government agencies and writers.

The conference will open Thursday night, Jan. 30, with a keynote speech by Richard White of the University of Washington. Regarded as one of the nation's leading historians, White will speak on "Contested Terrain: The Business of Land in the American West." His talk, which begins at 7:30 p.m. in LaSells Stewart Center, is free and open to the public.

The conference will continue all day Friday, and through midday on Saturday, concluding with a luncheon and speech by Charles Wilkinson, the Moses Lasky Professor at the University of Colorado School of Law. Wilkinson will analyze land use patterns and priorities in a growing population. His talk, which also is free and open to the public, will begin at 12:30 p.m. in LaSells Stewart Center.

Other sessions include:

FRIDAY, JANUARY 31

"The Encounter With Ideas," featuring Daniel Bromley, University of Wisconsin and James Huffman, Lewis and Clark College, in an analysis of the debate between public interest and the rights of private individuals. 8:30 a.m., LaSells Stewart Center.

"The Ecological Context," with Jerry Franklin, University of Washington, speaking on the importance of public lands from an ecological perspective. 10:30 a.m., LaSells Stewart Center.

"Property and Freedom," featuring Bruce Yandle, Clemson University, and Dennis Coyle, Catholic University, in an overview on the meaning of "private property." 1:30 p.m., LaSells Stewart Center.

"Private Rights and Public Access." Historians William Rowley, University of Nevada-Reno, and Maria Montoya, University of Michigan, look at the history of open ranges and other issues. 3:30 p.m., LaSells Stewart Center.

"Writers and Western Landscapes," readings from authors William Kittredge, University of Montana; Craig Lesley, Portland; and Kathleen Moore, OSU. 7:30 p.m., Milam Auditorium. Free and open to the public.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1

"Legal Encounters and Western Lands," an analysis of the legal status and implications of property rights, featuring Keith Aoki, University of Oregon School of Law, and Michael McCann and Sarah Pralle, University of Washington. 8:30 a.m., LaSells Stewart Center (Ag Production Room).

"Science, Policy and Land Management," with Thomas A. Spies, U.S. Forest Service, and Nancy Langston, University of Wisconsin. 8:30 a.m., LaSells Stewart Center (Engineering Auditorium).

"Ethics, Private Claims and the Common Good," an overview of ethical issues involved in land use decisions, featuring Emery Castle, Oregon State University, and Eugene C. Hargrove, University of Texas-North Texas. 10:30 a.m., LaSells Stewart Center (Engineering Auditorium).

"Urban Settings and National Parks," featuring Carl Abbott, Portland State University, and Arthur Gomez, the National Park Service. 10:30 a.m., LaSells Stewart Center (Ag Production Room).

"Beyond Growth Management: Confronting the Edge of Population Stabilization," the concluding address by Charles Wilkinson, Moses Lasky Professor, University of Colorado School of Law. (luncheon at noon; free public speech at 12:30 p.m., LaSells Stewart Center.

The conference is sponsored by OSU's College of Liberal Arts and The Oregon Council for the Humanities, with support from The Jackson Foundation of Portland, The Horning Endowment for the Humanities, and numerous OSU programs.

For registration information, contact the OSU College of Liberal Arts at 541-737-4582.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Bill Robbins, 541-737-4583

Population expert to attack ecological 'backlash'

CORVALLIS - Paul Ehrlich, perhaps the world's leading expert on global overpopulation and the myriad problems it can cause, will convey his newest environmental warning in a lecture April 9 at Oregon State University.

In a new book titled "Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-Environmental Rhetoric Threatens Our Future," Ehrlich criticizes those groups - from political pundits to special interest lobbies and the public news media - who he says too often promote "feel-good fables" that make light of very real threats to the environment.

Ehrlich will examine that topic in his OSU address at 7 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center. It is free and open to the public.

He will also speak at Lewis and Clark College in Portland on Friday, April 11, at 7:30 p.m. on the topic "Overpopulation: Why It's Important and What Should be Done About It." Tickets for that address are $25 and can be obtained by calling (503) 768-6672.

Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University, became internationally prominent three decades ago with his publication of "The Population Bomb," a hard-hitting analysis of the looming crisis overpopulation poses on a global scale.

"Ehrlich has consistently been at the forefront of critical issues of the day," said Jane Lubchenco, a distinguished professor of zoology at OSU and recent president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"His new book exposes the destructive 'brownlash' activities which seek to prevent society from dealing reasonably with serious environmental challenges," she said. "Ehrlich is quick, provocative, and usually right."

During his career, Ehrlich has studied evolution, the dynamics and genetics of population, the effects of crowding on human beings, and the influence of the popular press on the conduct of science. Field work has taken him to every continent, the Arctic and Antarctic, and even the ocean floor.

Most recently, he has expressed alarm about those who downplay the reality of global environmental problems, despite a frequent consensus in the science community on such topics as desertification, food production, global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain and species extinction.

Ehrlich has authored more than 700 scientific papers and many books. He is a fellow of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, recipient of a MacArthur Prize and been honored widely for his ecological advocacy.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Robert Mason, 541-737-4107

Tests show increasing prevalence of West Nile virus in Oregon, Washington

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University technicians have documented more than a hundred pools of mosquitoes in eastern Oregon that have tested positive for West Nile virus, and though no human cases have yet been reported, the state is urging caution.

“The risk of an individual contracting West Nile virus is low, but we do encourage people to take appropriate precautions to protect themselves against mosquito bites,” said Emilio DeBess, the state public health veterinarian with the Oregon Department of Human Services.

Tests for West Nile virus in mosquitoes and animals that can carry the virus are conducted annually at the Oregon State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Thus far, OSU diagnosticians have documented 78 mosquito pools with West Nile virus from Morrow County; 24 pools from Umatilla County; six pools from Baker County; and five from Malheur County.

Two birds from Morrow and Umatilla counties tested positive for West Nile as did a horse from Umatilla County, according to Jerry Heidel, director of OSU’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

“Many of the positive tests have occurred just recently,” Heidel said, “so there is a possibility that the prevalence of West Nile virus may be increasing in mosquito populations, as well as the birds and horses that they bite.”

OSU diagnosticians tested 2,260 pools of mosquitoes from eastern Oregon and found 70 of those pools to contain mosquitoes with the virus. Two of 70 birds tested came back positive; and one of 12 horses.

The diagnostic laboratory, which is part of OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, also test 260 pools of mosquitoes from Washington state and found 143 of those pools contained the virus – 140 from Benton County (Washington) and three from Adams County.

Previous studies by researchers at OSU and elsewhere suggest that “amplification” of West Nile virus prevalence comes when mosquito pools are in close proximity to flocks of birds – especially those that migrate.

Testing of mosquitoes is not conducted throughout the entire state, so there likely are pools of mosquitoes that contain West Nile virus that have not yet been detected, Heidel pointed out. Rocky Baker, an OSU diagnostician and supervisor of the Molecular Diagnostics section at the laboratory, has indicated they will be conducting tests throughout the mosquito season, which lasts until the first heavy frosts occur.

DeBess, who works for the Oregon Department of Human Services, said high numbers of mosquito pools with the virus can lead to further human and animal infections. In 2008, Oregon reported 16 human cases to the Centers for Disease Control.

West Nile virus frequently is detected through dead birds, which are sent to OSU for testing. Persons noticing dead birds – especially crows, magpies, jays and robins – should contact local county health departments.

Humans infected with West Nile virus may experience mild flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches and swollen glands, according to DeBess. In some serious cases, the central nervous system is infected and individuals can contract meningitis or encephalitis. Not all humans infected become ill, however, DeBess added.

DeBess offers several suggestions for reducing risks of contacting West Nile virus:

  • Eliminate all sources of standing water that can be a breeding ground for biting mosquitoes, including water troughs, bird baths, clogged gutters and old tires;
  • Avoid outdoor activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active;
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when in mosquito-infested areas;
  • Use mosquito repellents containing DEET, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus and Picardin, making sure to follow directions on the container;
  • Make sure screed doors and windows are in good repair and fit tightly.

More information is available on the Oregon Department of Human Services West Nile Website at: http://oregon.gov/DHS/ph/acd/diseases/wnile/survey.shtml

 

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Jerry Heidel, 541-737-6964;

OSU holds Earth Week celebration

CORVALLIS - A series of speakers and demonstrations highlight Oregon State University's annual Earth Week Celebration, April 21-24. All activities are free and open to the public.

Focal point of the week is to celebrate the Earth and get out information to promote environmental awareness, said Rich Bowden, an OSU master's candidate in entomology who is organizing OSU Earth Week events.

Self-proclaimed storyteller and wilderness hermit Lou Gold will help start the week with "Lessons from the Ancient Forest: Earth Wisdom and Political Activism," at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 21 in OSU's Memorial Union East International Forum.

Gold will use slides and stories to illustrate his belief that America's ancient forests, wild salmon and other sectors of wilderness are at risk. He has presented his show some 600 times to more than 100,000 people.

The OSU Memorial Union Quad will be the scene of the Earth Week Information Fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Tuesday (April 21-22). The fair features ways to decrease the environmental impacts of everyday life.

Oregon State's Earth Week celebration is part of the worldwide observance of Earth Day each April 22. The first Earth Day in 1970 rallied more than 20 million Americans from around the country to environmental issues. The event spread globally and on the 20th anniversary in 1990, more than 200 million people in 141 countries participated in environmental activities.

Earth Week at OSU includes: Monday, April 21

10 a.m.

Information Fair, featuring ways people can learn to live in closer harmony with the earth. Memorial Union Quad (through 2 p.m.).

10 a.m.

Jane Lubchenco, an internationally known researcher and educator at OSU, will talk on "Science for Sustainability," as she focuses on her belief that the world is entering the century of the environment and changes are needed. Memorial Union Room 206.

Noon

 

"Non-Economic Arguments for Biodiversity," will be presented by Peter List, OSU professor of philosophy. Memorial Union Room 206.

1 p.m.

"Salmon in Hot Water," a discussion by Hiram Li, OSU professor of fisheries and wildlife. Memorial Union American Indian Conference Room.

4 p.m.

"Oxygen: An Essential Biomolecule and an Environmental Mutagen," presented by Christopher Matthews, OSU distinguished professor and chairman of biochemistry and biophysics. Memorial Union Room 208.

7:30 p.m.

"Lessons from the Ancient Forest: Earth Wisdom and Political Activism," by Lou Gold, environmental activist. Memorial Union East International Forum.

Tuesday, April 22

10 a.m.

Information Fair, featuring ways people can learn to live in closer harmony with the earth. Memorial Union Quad (through 2 p.m.).

1 p.m.

"Nature Snatchers," a presentation by Bob Mason, OSU associate professor of zoology. Memorial Union American Indian Conference Room.

2 p.m.

"Green Politics," a discussion by Blair Bobier, statewide coordinator for the Pacific Party. Memorial Union American Indian Conference Room.

Thursday, April 24

4 p.m.

A discussion of Northwest fishery resources with representatives from the Center for Salmon Disease. Memorial Union Council Room.

Source: 

Rich Bowden, 541-737-6354

A step closer to a silent spring

CORVALLIS - Think about it - have you seen any wild honeybees lately? Probably not. And it may be a long time before you ever see one again.

This simple insect, a buzzing harbinger of spring and supplier of honey since the settlers at Jamestown tackled the wilderness in the early 1600s, is disappearing from North America.

Yes, there's a thriving beekeeping industry in the U.S. - it can provide the chemical treatments necessary to protect hives from parasitic mites that are quietly killing all the wild bees. So you can still see a honeybee if you visit a 2,000-tree fruit orchard that's renting them for pollination.

But elsewhere? In your home garden, or cherry tree, or on your flowers?

Forget about it. Without the grandeur of a California condor or the headlines of a spotted owl, the wild honeybee is practically gone. Not an "endangered species" in any legal sense, of course. It's just gone.

"The mite problem had been getting steadily worse, and then the harsh winter of 1995-96 caused a horrendous crash in wild bee populations in the Midwest and eastern United States," said Michael Burgett, a professor of entomology at Oregon State University.

"Right now 85-95 percent of the wild honeybees have died, and pretty soon the only wild hives around will be colonies that escaped from human-kept hives," he said. "Then they'll die too."

Burgett, a honeybee and pollination expert, has trekked literally around the world studying the problems facing honeybees - including 17 trips just to Thailand, the ancestral and evolutionary home of an insect that, after 375 years of residence, we think of as "native" to the United States.

He was among the first to warn about the impending doom wild colonies faced from parasitic "varroa" and tracheal mites accidentally imported into the U.S. in the 1980s - a tragedy now blossomed into a full-scale epidemic.

These mites, Burgett said, have now spread around most of North America and are wreaking havoc on wild hives - whose numbers, by one rule of thumb, used to at least equal the three million commercial hives in the U.S.

"But that doesn't begin to describe the role honeybees used to play," Burgett said. "Colonies were carried from Europe and then across prairies in covered wagons. In 19th century America, a nation of small farmers, everyone had a couple bee hives for honey and pollination. It's part of our heritage."

The human side of the story, Burgett said, is reflected in stories he's heard of home gardeners offering to pay commercial beekeepers to leave a hive near their backyard. "They miss the sight and sound of the bees," he said.

The commercial and practical side of disappearing honeybees revolves around miticides, pesticide resistance, "mite-resistant" genetic strains of bees, and the need for research into new bee species usable for pollination.

"From a purely practical point of view, this is not a natural disaster that modern agriculture can't deal with," Burgett said. "Beekeepers who know what they're doing can keep their honeybee hives alive, although it's expensive and the mites have doubled the usual amounts of winter kill."

And largely sight-unseen, there are still about 3,500 other species of bees in the U.S. to perform many or most pollination needs for the home gardener. Some sound classy, like bumblebees. Others are ratty little insects like the mason bee, sweat bee or "mining mud bee." They're often tiny, solitary, live in holes and add little ambiance to a warm spring afternoon.

"Of course, even in commercial apiculture these mites are still a big problem," Burgett said. "There are 90 crops around the U.S., valued at about $10 billion, that depend on commercial pollination. And 99.9 percent of that managed pollination is done with honeybees."

Because of that ongoing demand - and the demise of the wild honeybee that used to pick up much of the pollination slack - the business of many commercial beekeepers is flourishing. Pollination fees doubled in the past 10 years and wholesale honey prices are up 90 percent in the past two years.

Researchers, of course, will try to develop better solutions. Some honeybees may eventually develop what Burgett calls "mite tolerance," although the process will be slow. And any genetic resistance that does develop might be watered down by the continued presence of mite-infected commercial hives.

"By keeping the weaker bees alive, we're encouraging survival of the weakest," Burgett said. "That's not great. But commercially, we simply can't afford to let all the non-resistant bees die. It's too Draconian.

Meanwhile, wild colonies will largely disappear. The garden will still bloom and be pollinated by some little bug. The grocery will still have fruit.

But the meandering honeybee bouncing from flower to flower in the warm sun is gone. And the spring will be a little more silent.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Michael Burgett, 541-737-4896