Filler: Long Island will buzz along unscathed

Honeybees on a comb. Honeybees on a comb. Photo Credit: iStock

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Lane Filler Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Lane Filler

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board. He came to Long Island in 2010 ...

When I first heard about "colony collapse disorder," I feared it was what happens on Long Island when property values drop 30 percent, taxes rise, and politicians talk about cutting Social Security and Medicare. It would have explained so much: the road rage, the tween girls with the word "Juicy" emblazoned across their tuchuses, and the fleeing to other climes.

But colony collapse disorder doesn't affect people, it kills bees en masse, and it isn't happening on Long Island. What's more, it's not the only creepy crawly problem bypassing us. We will also miss the once-every-17 years cicadapalooza set to hit this spring.

Long Island gets some cicadas every year, and we will this year too. But what is projected for most of the East Coast is a cicadapocalypse, the re-emergence of "Brood #2" for the first time since 1996, as soon as ground temps reach 64 degrees.

Long Island hosts other cicada broods, each of which re-emerges every 13 or 17 years, according to Cornell Cooperative Extension entomologist Dan Gilrein, but it won't experience the onslaught of millions of cicadas per acre from this one.

Avoiding the cicadastorm should be as sweet as honey, made by honeybees, whose situation is more complicated. Colony collapse disorder first surfaced around 2005, killing honeybees and wiping out as many as 50 percent of hives nationally. Honeybees pollinate about one-quarter of the food we eat -- and the food we should eat more of, like cherries, melons and onions.

But on Long Island, where honeybees help our pumpkins and strawberries and apples blossom and taste awesome, "We haven't seen any of the large-scale loss of bees that would characterize CCD," said George Schramm, president of the Long Island Beekeepers Club. That's positive for our agriculture, and gardens, and for local honey producers and allergy sufferers who rely on local honey to combat the ills caused by local pollen. Parts of New York, and at least 34 other states, are seeing colony collapse disorder, likely an agricultural clash between edgy technology and ancient methods.

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Modern cash crops are often sown "monoculturally," meaning a given area is entirely devoted to one crop. The best example vis-à-vis bees is California's San Joaquin Valley, where 80 percent of the nation's almonds are grown on 800,000 acres. That demands more than 1.5 million beehives to pollinate them for a few weeks. Professional beekeepers take their hives to almond country, then fan out across the nation to pollinate apples and melons and such.

Theories abound about why honeybees are dying, but most evidence points to increased pesticide levels, and in particular, a type called neonicotinoids.

Long Island doesn't have much monocultural farming of wheat, soy or corn, missing out on some of the worst use of pesticides embedded in seeds or applied to fields. Thus our bees thrive. But only a tiny percentage of what most Long Islanders eat is grown locally. Colony collapse disorder has the potential to be a real food-supply problem. If the honeybee population collapses, crops that depend on honeybees for pollination will fail for everyone.

People often say, "If folks living 100 years ago could see us today they'd be amazed at our iPads and Wiis." It's not true.

A grown-up living in 1913 saw the popularization or invention of electricity, the telephone, cars, planes and a dozen other things. He or she would assume we would develop fantastic new inventions. What would surprise our forebears is that we are still at the mercy of honeybees and cicadas. They'd expect us to have figured out pollination and biblical plagues by now.

Most surprising, and pleasing, to modern old me? The idea that, for once, multiple, huge problems would descend everywhere BUT Long Island.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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