Oregon lost 1 in 5 bee colonies over winter

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SALEM, Ore. — One in five of the state’s commercial honeybee colonies did not survive the winter, according to data Oregon State University released Monday.

The school’s experts say that if such winter mortality continues, some professional beekeepers may not be able to stay in business.

Losing 10 to 15 percent of colonies is considered sustainable, said OSU entomologist Ramesh Sagili. But Oregon’s die-off rate last winter was 21.1 percent, near the average of 22 percent over the last six years.

Replacing lost colonies, which usually include around 50,000 bees, requires time and labor, he said. A beekeeper must purchase a queen, then take bees from a healthy colony. “That’s one more reason I don’t see a new generation of beekeepers getting into beekeeping,” he said. “It’s not survivable. If they keep losing at that pace, he or she as a new beekeeper probably won’t be in business for long.”

Oregon is home to 62,000 managed honeybee colonies, according to the Bee Informed Partnership, which tracks colonies. Honeybees are instrumental in pollinating crops including pears, blueberries, cherries, apples and vegetable seeds.

Scientists blame pests, diseases, diet and pesticides for the higher rate of bee die-offs in recent years. Bees are susceptible to Varroa mites, which transmit viruses, and poor nutrition due to farming practices.

The Oregon Legislature created a pollinator health task force this year to seek ways to prevent bee die-offs.