A waggle-dance warning

By: Melanie Weber; Real Food Challenge Team member

In light of the hysteria surrounding sudden decline in bee populations, I found the documentary More Than Honey one that was compelling, informative and surprisingly emotional. Something I truly appreciated about the film was how it brought to life the different faces of honey production. The audience is introduced to the diverse world of bee-keeping; starting with a traditional bee keeper in the high mountains of Switzerland, who maintains his hive of native bees out of family tradition; to a traveling bee-keeper who transports thousands of bees in semi-trucks, pollinating America’s massive agricultural fields; and even a breeder of bees, who tricks the hive into producing extra queens to ship around the world.

While exploring the spectrum of bee keepers, I also began to piece together the personality of the main character, the bees themselves. Approximately 50,000 bees are buzzing around one hive, but not one could survive on its own. For this reason, scientists have chDrinking_Beeosen to refer to the hive as the organism, not the individual bee. The efficient delegation and communication in the hive keeps things running smoothly, as the film points out, because there is no one bee enforcing the rules, but each bee performs a task as if it was assigned. Collectively, an average hive has 500 billion neuron cells — five times the neurological capacity of a human. As a human, an independent entity, it is easy to misunderstand the bees’ relationship to their hive.  More than Honey provides the known science of bees, but also provides the viewer with a chance to observe the subtleties and emotions within hives.

Honey has amazing properties. It is filtered by the bees themselves, creating a food that is free of impurities. It also slightly acidic, helping your body fight localized infections. Plus, honey has additional antibacterial compounds. Anyone who experiences allergies can eat local honey to help their immune system. I want to still be able to enjoy my honey, but to make sure I was eating honey that was produced by a bee keeper who was respectful to the hive that produced it.

I decided to do some research on a local honey distributer: Honeyville, located just north of Durango. After talking with the folks there, I found out that Honeyville purchases honey from smaller producers all over- extending throughout the Southwest, into Colorado’s Front Range, and even into Wyoming. Something that was pressing on my mind was the use of antibiotics on hives. The Honeyville representative I spoke to informed me that bee keeping is impossible without the use of antibiotics. The bees sacrifice themselves for the sake of the honey—believing that it is for the longevity of the hive—and filter all those things out with their bodies. While I was informed that no significant levels of antibiotics can be found in the honey, I found myself equally concerned about the bees’ exposure.




Indirect Domestication of Wildlife

Bears going through garbage

Bears going through garbage. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/laura-kali/4675381179/.

We’ve all seen them munching in our gardens or digging through our dumpsters.  More and more we are seeing our towns and cities becoming a safe-haven for what we call wild animals.  While some areas may see this less, in Durango we see this on a regular basis.  We also see a variety of animals entering city limits like bears, deer, and numerous amounts of birds.  From a quick glance this may not seem too large of a problem, but when looking into the effects that this collision has on the animals exposed, this problem is anything but minute.

There lies a clear, common distinction between what is domesticated and what is wild.  This distinction can be easily recognized at a young age and is part of our ability to identify between what is predictable and safe (domesticated) and what is not predictable and potentially unsafe (wild).  This distinction is becoming less and less apparent for certain species living within city limits.  With a constant exposure to potential threats (humans/dogs) deer are becoming more comfortable and may even appear tame.  So what’s the big deal, we all like to see a buck every now and again, right?

There are many factors that are concerning regarding this indirect domestication of wild animals.  These concerns can be divided into several groups, this effect on humans, this effect on the species involved, and this effect on the species new environment.  To start with the more obvious effect that this might have on humans.  One common observation of domesticated animals is a lack of movement in light of a threat.  This can cause many various problems with a wild species unleashed in a human environment.  For example the amount of wild animals hit with vehicles within city limits will most likely increase with 1) population of wild animals that inhabit that city and 2) the time of exposure to potential threats.  With regards to population size, for obvious reasons, the larger the population the more potential for interactions.  With regards to time of population exposure, the more time a population is exposed to sustained potential threats, the more that population will ignore them.  This also can create dangerous situations with potentially predatory animals such as bear or mountain lions due to an increased comfort of not only the animal, but humans as well.

Next we can look at the potential effects on the species involved.  An obvious first example is relocation when found or death when found multiple times.  This can be seen in bear populations that are entering city limits and numerous relocations and killings of bears.  Bears and other wild animals are also affected by eating things that they shouldn’t be eating, such as trash or non-native garden vegetation.  Other effects on animals have to do with specific physiological changes over time.  This involves the constant exposure to potential threats that lowers the fight or flight response within the individual.

~ Drew Walters

Poisoning Wildlife

photo by Liz Grogan

photo by Liz Grogan

Bad news for prairie and mountain predators: according to an article in the High Country News, the Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of Kaput-D and Rozol, brutal rodenticides that target prairie dogs. The poisons work a bit like the Ebola virus, causing massive hemorrhaging through every pore in the rodent’s body. Upon ingestion of the poison, it may take several days or weeks for the prairie dog to die. In the meantime, the rodent gets weak and more susceptible to predators. If the predators consume a poisoned prairie dog, they could become poisoned themselves. The Center for Biological Diversity has made their stance on the poison clear: the EPA should withdraw prairie dog poisons, not approve more. Poisoning prairie dogs can have devastating effects on a wide range of animals, including: whooping cranes, American burying beetles, foxes, golden eagles, bald eagles, hawks, mountain plovers, burrowing owls, coyotes, bears, wolves, and black footed ferrets, just to name a few.

Pollution is also poisoning Rocky Mountain wildlife. An article in the Salt Lake Tribune claims that excess nitrogen due to fertilizers and vehicle exhaust is causing algae populations in Rocky Mountain lakes to boom. An excess of algae results in high-nitrogen but low-phosphorus “junk food” for fish and microorganism. The low nutrient diet threatens endangered fish species, like the cutthroat trout. Scientists are studying the impact for the rest of the mountain ecosystem in order to determine how best to solve the problem.

It’s not all doom and gloom for wildlife in the Four Corners. The Arizona Daily Sun has good news for endangered Mexican wolves. In order to increase public support for the Mexican wolf reintroduction program in Arizona, federal wildlife officials and the National Fish and Wildlife Federation have agreed to start a trust fund for ranchers in the Southwest. The fund, estimated to be a few million dollars, will both compensate ranchers for livestock losses and contribute to improved security. A Mexican wolf reintroduction program was started in 1998, with 50 wild wolves now roaming Arizona and New Mexico. Wildlife officials are hoping the trust fund will satisfy ranchers and keep them from illegally killing the wolves.

Liz Grogan

Honeybees and Ice Cream

EC File Photo

EC File Photo

What does eating ice cream and a recent crisis involving a lack of honey bees have in common? A lot!

Many businesses may overlook their reliance on wildlife and nature to support production, marketing, and creation of consumer products.   It’s a little known fact that up to 80% of food in the US relies on pollination at some point in its life cycle, and that honey bees are directly responsible for the pollination of up to 30% of food crops.  Foods that are reliant upon honeybees range from alfalfa (used as feed for beef), oranges, grapes, almonds, blueberries, watermelon, squash, cherries, cucumbers, pears, peanuts, strawberries, ginger, hazelnuts, raspberries, mangoes, coconuts, peppermint,  and of course honey, just to name a few.  This free source of labor allows for cheaper prices and greater availability of all-natural food sources.

Over the past 3 years, nearly one-third of America’s once-thriving honey bee colonies have suddenly collapsed.  The phenomenon, named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), is only just beginning to be understood by scientists, but its effects on businesses and consumers have been felt strongly.  It’s estimated that honey bees contribute $15 billion worth of value to U.S. farmers, and in their absence, these costs have been absorbed by consumers and producers resulting in lower production and higher prices of foods reliant on honey bee pollination.

One company that has taken a pro-active stance to this crisis is Häagen-Dazs, the gourmet and all natural ice cream producers from New York.  Häagen-Dazs has recognized their strong dependence on the free work of honey bees to provide large harvests of many of their main ingredients and spearheaded a campaign to educate and promote awareness on the issue.  They even launched a new flavor in honor of the honeybees, “Vanilla Honey Bee.”

In a worst case scenario, the honeybee population diminishes to the point to where businesses like Häagen-Dazs must resort to artificial pollination- a very expensive procedure- and the variety and abundance of naturally growing fruit and nut trees is significantly reduced.  Häagen-Dazs’s Brand Director, Katty Pien , said in February 2008 interview with CNN that she hopes scientists get a breakthough in the CCD mystery soon, or the company may be forced to reduce the varieties of flavors, or increase the retail prices of their ice cream products.  With the $20 million per year of funding from the US Department of Agriculture, and a growing recognition of honeybees’ hard work on behalf of businesses like Häagen-Dazs as well as from consumers, causes of CCD, hopefully, will be identified, and the honeybee population restored.  And the little known heroes of the business world will continue to bring us benefits.

-Elizabeth Stone

To learn more about this topic and to learn how you can help check out these links,







Lone Wolf

Five years ago, a lone wolf found himself in Colorado, over a thousand miles away from home, and was killed on I-70. Earlier this year, a new female made her way to our mountains, but she also died within weeks. Wolves are still endangered, yet officials in the Northern Rockies, particularly Yellowstone, are pronouncing success – apparently enough to allow hunting this fall. The Obama administration affirmed a plan to resume wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana this year, originally a product of the Bush administration.
Consider the numbers: a century ago, wolves dominated the West, with an estimated 500 individuals in Yellowstone alone, but they were completely exterminated by the mid-1900s. In 1995, a controversial plan reintroduced 14 wolves to Yellowstone, with low expectations. Now, just 15 years later, approximately 1500 wolves can be found in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, with about 150 total in Yellowstone. Even though this is just a fraction of the original numbers, state officials are considering it a “population boom” which is now growing out of hand. The plan is to ultimately reduce the numbers to 600.
600 wolves, 3 states. Ecosystems already struggling to hold together will soon have less than half as many wolves to maintain the balance between predator and prey.
What does this mean for Colorado? Due to the lack of predators in the mountains, prey populations, particularly elk, have been a significant problem. One solution which has yet to find enough public support is to reintroduce both Mexican and grey wolf “trial” populations into Rocky Mountain National Park. However, Colorado is officially at a standstill. While refusing to officially fund a reintroduction program, claiming it is too difficult to maintain due to herd migration and the associated risks of predators to livestock, children and pets, state officials claim they will protect whatever wolves happen to wander down to Colorado.
It’s a good idea in theory, but the only two wolves known to have managed the thousand mile trip still died within months.

– Liz Grogan