The state Department of Agriculture will investigate a sudden die-off of honeybees in Millville from earlier this week.
State Bee Inspector Danielle Downey said Thursday that dead bees from the hives of two hobbyist keepers in west Millville will be gathered and tested to find out if a pesticide killed them.
Millville beekeepers Travis Johnson and Paul Gregory, who reported the die-off of their bees to The Herald Journal on Tuesday, said they suspect whatever a crop duster let loose on fields in Millville on Monday is to blame. On Tuesday morning, both discovered thousands of dead bees on the ground around their hives. The die-off lasted only one day, Johnson said. No other keepers in the area have reported problems.
Cache County Bee Inspector Martin James said the sudden deaths suggest pesticide poisoning, as does the agitated behavior of the bees both keepers reported. Downey called the deaths "suspicious," referring to the possibility that pesticide killed the bees.
Darren Cox, of Cox Honeyland of Utah, who experienced massive die-offs in local hives due to pesticides earlier this decade, said most bee poisoning happens when pesticide applicators don't follow guidelines, which carry the weight of law, that can prohibit spraying when plants are blooming and at times of day when bees are foraging (which can happen up to five miles from the hive, Downey said).
"If they apply according to the label, there generally is no problem," said Cox, who served as chairman of the National Honey Bee Advisory Board before resigning earlier this year.
Bees in Cox honey hives at the mouth of Millville Canyon, a couple of miles from the hives affected this week, showed no signs of being poisoned, said Cox. Despite suffering some losses almost every year, Cox said so far this year none of his bees across Cache Valley have shown signs of pesticide poisoning.
Referring to the sudden deaths in Millville, he said: "That indicates that something major happened."
Despite Cox's past difficulties, James said cases of honeybee pesticide poisoning are rare. Sometimes poor beekeeping is part of the problem with the insects not being raised strong enough to withstand exposure to diseases and toxins healthy bees would survive, he said. That's an issue, since the number of backyard beekeepers has boomed in Cache Valley in recent years due to media coverage of Colony Collapse Disorder (the cause of which is undetermined) and the decline of honeybees across the country, James said. Johnson and Gregory both started keeping bees this year. Neither is registered with the state.
That's a problem, said James, explaining many keepers fail to put up signs noting where their hives are located, a Utah law. Knowing where hives are could help stave off pesticide poisoning problems, he said.
"We've been trying for years to get beekeepers to register," he said. "I think there's responsibility on both sides there. There needs to be a lot more education."
Johnson, 16, who started keeping bees to help his garden grow more robust, said he'd like to have warning before spraying happens so he can move his bees or take other measures, like covering the hive with a wet blanket to keep bees out of the fields.
Over the years, Cox has pushed officials to tighten up Utah pesticide-application laws as parasites and fungus increasingly threaten honeybee populations.
"It's hard enough to keep bees alive," he said.