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Putting a bee in legislators' bonnets.

Trucks carrying 400 to 500 hives of honeybees travel up Interstate 95 from Florida and other southern states to Maine each year to help the blueberry crop.

These colonies are often moved from state to state, making goldenrod honey in New York state and pollinating orange blossoms in Florida, blueberries and wild raspberries in Maine, cranberries on Cape Cod and cucumbers in Michigan.

Why are these bees impersonating door-to-door traveling salesmen?

Because officials in several states, including Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, have reported a decline in their honeybee populations.

Since a third of all our fruits and vegetables would not exist without these busy insects to fertilize the plants, state governments and nonprofit associations are trying to lend a hand.

Bees are attacked on several fronts--urban sprawl that destroys nesting and feeding grounds, natural disasters, drought, cold weather and pesticides. But the greatest damage has been wrought by varroa and tracheal mites, foreign parasites that attack native bees.

Relaxing of honeybee import laws in the 1980s allowed the mites to hitchhike into the country from Europe (tracheal) and Thailand (varroa) in 1986 and reach the 48 contiguous states. The parasites destroyed about 60 percent of the nation's bees in 1996.

New York has passed legislation directing the commissioner of agriculture to do something about bee parasites. "New York state's No. 1 industry is agriculture. The importance of a healthy bee population to pollinate our plants cannot be overstated. The damage that varroa and tracheal mites cause cannot be left unchecked," says New York Senator Nancy Larraine Hoffman.

Ohio's Governor Bob Taft issued an executive order in 1999 to control another bee parasite, the Small Hive beetle.

In the meantime, the bees are working hard, both for their colonies and state economies. Annual national sales include $200 million in honey, $3.9 million in wax and billions in crop pollination. In providing research funds to the University of North Carolina, the legislature noted that bees contribute more titan $6 million per year to the state economy through the production of honey and beeswax and $30 million by increasing the value of apples, blueberries, cucumbers, watermelons and other crops.

There are 2.9 million bee colonies in the United States and more than 1.1 million honeybee colonies are rented each year to pollinate about 50 different crops.

Farmers aren't the only ones interested in bees. Golf courses have established nesting sites in out-of-play areas by providing native plants for the bees. The U.S. Department of Defense also is conducting research because they think bees can be trained to detect biological and chemical weapons.
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Title Annotation:On First Reading
Publication:State Legislatures
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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