Honey bee population doing better, beekeepers still concerned

Dane County Beekeeping Assoc. adopts Middleton area for bees to call home by next month

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported this week that the struggling honey bee population is doing better.

Nationwide, 23 percent of colonies were lost this winter compared to 30-percent last winter.

But local beekeepers tell News 3 the losses are still too high.

Jeanne Hansen is a longtime beekeeper and said she most recently lost all of her hives — that’s as many as half a million bees.

“We certainly wish it was a lot easier to keep bees,” said Hansen, who has been beekeeping for six years from the backyard of her east side home.

Hansen said the declining bee population is a combination of many factors, including insecticides and varroa mites. The parasite attacks bee larvae.

Earlier this year, the USDA provided $3 million in technical and financial assistance to encourage farmers in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and the Dakotas to develop a program to breed bees that can naturally resist the mites.

“We need beekeepers to provide homes for bees because there are not hollow trees,” Hansen said. “If a tree dies, we cut it down. There are not shabby houses with holes where the bees can go in. Bees need a place to live.”

Hansen didn’t hesitate and along with the Dane County Beekeeping Association, adopted two Middleton boulevards along Airport Road that bees can call home by next month. The City will swap out the grass for a prairie mix to benefit bees.

“We want to plant specific species like purple cone flower, bergamot, black-eyed Susans and we’ll put in some native grasses,” Middleton Public Lands Manager Penni Klein said.

Klein agrees it’s important to ensure the bees’ health that has a huge impact on humans. Nearly one-third of our diet, like berries, nuts, fruits and vegetables, comes from plants pollinated by honey bees.

“The goal is to complete all of the boulevards on Airport Road someday and have them all in the native species that benefit the pollinators,” Klein said.

Hansen is caring for six new hives this summer, while the USDA proposed dedicating $71 million of next year’s budget to responding to the honey bee’s decline and supporting its recovery.