The decline of native bees and, now, the domesticated

honeybee has focused the nation's attention on their importance to the nation's

food supply. These critters are the backbone of our existence, their work

essential for producing bountiful crops - including Long Island's tomatoes,

apples, peppers, corn and blueberries.

Bees and other insects move pollen from plant to plant, ensuring fertilized

seeds and genes flow among stands of trees, groupings of shrubs, fields of

flowers and throughout agricultural areas. Without pollinators, many foods that

wildlife and humans rely on would no longer be available. So it is incumbent

on all of us to be beekeepers. There are a number of things Long Islanders can

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do to help protect and rejuvenate our local bee populations.

Populations of wild bees and honeybees are in decline nationwide for many

reasons - loss of habitat, poisoning from pesticides, and introduced parasites

and disease, among others. With the decline of wild bees and the pressure for

high crop yields, growers have grown more reliant on managed honeybees.

Although beekeepers have fought to keep their colonies healthy, something

new is afflicting these little workers. Last October, the first case of "colony

collapse disorder" was identified and reported in Florida. This disorder is

now reported in 35 states. Hundreds of thousands of bee colonies have abruptly

died or been severely weakened, and the cause is still unknown.

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Luckily, the disorder has not yet been reported on Long Island. Local

beekeepers lost colonies this past winter but attribute those losses to extreme

fluctuations in weather.

Protecting open space is perhaps the most important action we can take to

protect our pollinators. Wild woodland, shrubs and flowers support native bees.

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Voting yes for public land acquisition efforts, including municipal bond

issues and community preservation fund programs, will help protect bees.

Town of Brookhaven voters can protect thousands of open-space acres by

approving the community preservation fund referendum on the ballot in November.

Similar programs on the East End have protected thousands of acres.

Homeowners should also landscape with bees in mind. Widespread pesticide

use has decimated bee populations. By trying elbow grease and organic methods

first, and pesticides as a last resort, we can substantially reduce bee stress

and deaths.

Conventional lawns are a "desert" monoculture, offering no nectar or pollen

for bees. But it's possible to convert your lawn to be more ecologically

suitable. Bees need a less maintenance-intensive lawn that includes a diversity

of flowering plants, such as white clover and violets. In fact, clover is

often viewed as the most important American honey plant.

Since plants flower at different times, it is important to allow for a wide

diversity of plants in your yard, so that bees are able to collect nectar and

pollen throughout the warm months. The nectar is processed into honey in the

hive. Both nectar (honey) and pollen are stored as food for the colony during

the winter months. Honeybees will forage two to three miles from their hive in

search of food.

If you have an unwanted honeybee swarm or hive in or near your home,

consult a beekeeper to relocate the colony (check with the Long Island

Beekeepers Club for beekeepers) instead of killing them. A healthy honeybee

hive has 50,000 to 60,000 bees - that is a lot of pollinators!

Buying local honey helps local beekeepers stay in business, resulting in

more hives and more bees to pollinate flowers on Long Island. Eating local

honey has an additional benefit, as regular consumption can help relieve the

symptoms of pollen-related allergies.

Sixty percent of the honey consumed in the United States is foreign honey.

While people may be buying honey bears at the grocery store for a cheaper

price, it is ultimately costing Americans much more. The staggering value of

bees lies in their pollinating crops, trees and wildflowers.

Finally, more Long Islanders should consider keeping bees. The rewards of

beekeeping extend beyond honey and pollination. It is a relaxing and rewarding

hobby. You can build or buy hives for orchard mason bees, bumblebees and

honeybees - all bees found in our area.

Bees keep our world running. They are nonaggressive if undisturbed, keeping

to themselves to focus on pollinating flowers. As all can agree, Long Island

is home to a wonderful diversity of people, places and ideas. With everyone's

help, it will also continue to be home for a huge diversity of bees.