Central Oregon

What's the buzz? Bees crucial - and in trouble

High Desert growers also depend on their bzz-y work

Bees crucial in agriculture, on High Desert too

Recent bee deaths across the country have Congress and farmers paying close attention to a declining part of the U.S. economy. But what exactly makes bees crucial to the ebb and flow of Central Oregon's ecosystem?

The warmer temperatures have the bees of the High Desert buzzing. And when the bees are happy, Allen Engle is happy. 

"Opening up the hives and seeing how they're all interacting inside…it's just a lot of fun," he says.

Engle, a beekeeper with the Central Oregon Beekeeping Association, learns from his bees and sells the honey he harvests from them.

But why should you care about them?

Many people are afraid of honey bees, but they have a bigger impact on your daily life than you might think. 

Bend Bee Company owner Jason Huddleston describes a world without them.

"It would probably be very grey. It would be very dead around. we wouldn't have flowers, we wouldn't have all the fruit and food we eat." 

It's an effect far more far-reaching than on just the produce section. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates about one-third of all food and drink is made possible by bees' pollination.

In the U.S., the value of pollination on agricultural production is estimated to be $20 billion to $30 billion a year.

Without them, "economies everywhere would struggle," Huddleston says.

In Oregon, Engle says Hood River's cherries and Kimberly's apples would be affected.

And on the agriculturally rich High Desert, Engle says, "In Madras, you've got the carrot and onion seeds."

It makes for a bee's paradise -- a good thing for a farmer's crops.

"They aren't actually growing the carrots and the onions- they're growing the seeds for other people to grow carrots and onions from," Engle says.

And with no pollination from a bee, you don't get the vegetable or the seeds.

But bees are becoming more scarce. In a report released in May, the USDA and EPA attributed the decline to a combination of parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure. 

"There's not near as many bees in the wild, if any," Huddleston says. "There's some, but it's very hard for them to survive, so it's important that people do take care of the bees."

In Bend, it's legal to have up to two hives on your property. But if beekeeping's not for you, Huddleston says, "In the summer, be aware of those different pesticides and things that are going on. Obviously, bees range -- they have a big range of where they go."  

Engle says other than that, you can provide habitat for the bees, which means giving them something to pollinate.  

"If I put a bunch of flowers out, I will get bees," he says. "But the bees aren't interested in me, they're interested in the flowers, and other than occasionally running into me -- they have poor eyesight -- they'll completely ignore you if you have flowers." 

So next time you shudder at the sound of a buzz, think about how without those honey bees, your world wouldn't be so colorful, or tasty.

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