Click photo to enlarge
Courtesy of Jill Harcke Graham White, former founding director of the Edinburgh Environmental Center, and Jill Harcke, founder and director of the John Muir Mountain Day Camp, discuss what John Muir might think of pesticides and their relationship to drops in the honey bee population. White was visiting from John Muir's birthplace of Dunbar, Scotland, for the John Muir Legacy Symposium at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

MARTINEZ -- Graham White, an author, teacher and passionate environmentalist from John Muir's birthplace in Dunbar, Scotland, is in the Bay Area to raise awareness and save honey bees.

"I flew 6,000 miles from Scotland to speak for John Muir," White said.

Jill Harcke, founder and director of the John Muir Mountain Day Camp, said she was happy to have White here as he prepared for a presentation at the University of Pacific "John Muir's Legacy Symposium" in Stockton.

"If John Muir were alive today he would be banging the drum about ... pesticides killing honey bees," White asserted.

"The symposium is about history and John Muir's legacy, but this is what his work was about, conservation and preservation of wildlife," he said.

Harcke said, "John Muir was very good at looking at ways to save unspoiled nature for the future. Likewise, (White) is saying we need to take a look at this very important, complex and serious issue or we won't have that in the future."

White detailed reports of catastrophic bee deaths and disappearances in Europe in the 1990s after the licensing of a nicotine-based pesticide, which was banned by the French government in 2000.

Reportedly, French bee populations began to recover after that, but the inexplicable bee losses called colony collapse disorder (CCD) continued throughout the world and large numbers of American bees started dying off in 2006.

Honey bees are important to California, which supplies 80 percent of the world's almonds.

Bees pollinate $6 billion worth of crops such as almonds, strawberries, onions, carrots and peanuts, roughly one-third of the food Californians eat, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

In 2013, the agency reported, "The apiary (bees) industry has been attacked by various exotic pests, pathogens and colony collapse disorder, which has resulted in significant losses of bees throughout the state and the nation."

Pesticides have been allowed for use in the agriculture industry and by private users for a variety of reasons.

"Neonicotinoid pesticides were considered breakthrough science when laboratory tests showed the nicotine-based toxins to be less harmful to vertebrates and the environment when used in correct amounts," according to Eric Mussen, UC Davis Extension apriculturalist with the Department of Entomology and Nematology.

The quantity of exposure makes a critical difference and the cumulative effect was unknown when the products came to market, said White, who is also a beekeeper.

He describes how "neonics" work on bees: "The effect of the poisoning is hyperstimulation of the nervous system; the bees appear 'intoxicated.'

They stand trembling, unable to coordinate movements and lose the ability to fly or navigate."

"Neonic" products appeal to agriculture producers because they are used less frequently and coating seeds with them makes them more effective.

The process to improve their effectiveness could play a part in drastic bee losses, Mussen said.

Other causes for CCD could be combinations of pesticides not used according to directions, mite infestations and pesticide dust emitted from seed planting equipment, he said.

Whatever the cause, White contends the decline in the bee population is related to "neonics," which are now produced by many companies.

The EPA acknowledged bee losses and reported the causes of CCD could be malnutrition, bee management practices, lack of diversity, pests, mites, pathogens and viruses and pesticides.

The agency also required pesticide producers to provide scientific evidence and the first tests started in 2008.

In 2013, the EPA began discussions about how to protect bees from unintended pesticide exposure.

Other countries are looking for answers, too, and have temporarily banned neonicotinoid pesticides, while more studies are to be completed.

But White is frustrated.

"There have been 200 scientific peer studies around the world and 96 percent said the evidence points to pesticide as a cause of CCD," he said.

Contact Dana Guzzetti about Martinez news at dguzzetti10@gmail.com or call 925-202-9292.

---