Resolving a Real-Life Rivalry Between Bears and Honeybees
By Corey Binns
Dressed in a white beekeeping suit, Zack Strong tried to ignore the honeybees buzzing around his hood as he pounded fence posts into late summer's rock-hard ground about 20 miles southwest of Columbus, Montana. The native Montanan and advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) Land and Wildlife program had made the trip from his home in Bozeman to these endless, rolling plains stretching north and east of the towering Beartooth Mountains to resolve a conflict between a storied pair of rivals, bees and bears. Black bears had recently bothered bee yards in this area, jeopardizing business for local apiarists in the nation's second-largest honey-producing state.
As anyone familiar with Winnie the Pooh will know—and as Dr. Alex Few, a biologist with U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, will attest to—conflicts between honeybees and bears are not new. Both black and grizzly bears love honey and will also eat bees and their larvae. But now that bear populations are expanding, conflicts are cropping up in new areas, Few noted.
Luckily, because bee yards are fairly compact, usually comprising 40 or fewer beehive boxes, electric fencing provides fairly simple and inexpensive protection. And as Strong pointed out, not only do the fences keep business buzzing—they are also "keeping bears alive and out of trouble."
Building five electric fences in two days to protect commercial honeybee yards from intruding bears requires a dedicated team. On this particular occasion, Strong was joined by NRDC field technician Josh Ross, NRDC environmental fellow Angela Hessenius, and an experienced crew from Defenders of Wildlife, Montana honey producer Sunshine Apiary, and USDA Wildlife Services. Together they installed posts and stretched wire in 90-degree heat, until the sun set behind the mountains and a cooling thunderstorm rolled in.
Sunshine's owners, Patty and Lance Sundberg, welcomed the help on their property. "Most beekeepers love wildlife, but, unfortunately, when a bear becomes a problem, they do not go away," Patty said. The Sundbergs have had their apiary since 1980 and say they've seen bears encroaching into new territory over the past decade. They plan to continue building some 5 to 10 new fences a year—an investment of its own, Patty noted, but a worthwhile one given that each bear bandit costs Sunshine up to $8,000 in lost damages. The Sundbergs' own expertise in bear behavior also helped inform the conservationists' fence design, since, over the years, they've seen what works and what doesn't.
NRDC wildlife advocate Zack Strong and Sunshine Apiary staff member Buddy DeHaven pound posts to anchor an electric fence.Alex Few / USDA Wildlife Services
Why Montana is seeing an uptick in reports of Pooh bears getting caught with their paws in the honey pot is a mystery. Strong said expanding grizzly bear populations may be displacing black bears into new and less familiar habitats. Eventually, Yellowstone-area grizzlies (which were recently removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species) might also expand into this project area, Strong said. So while the bee fences were added mainly in response to recent black bear conflicts, they can also serve as a deterrent for grizzlies.
In fact, in 2010 Defenders of Wildlife launched its Electric Fence Incentive Program primarily as a grizzly bear conservation tool. Since then, the group has built more than 280 electric fence projects to safeguard chicken coops, fruit trees, gardens, small livestock and bees, primarily on private lands.
People resorting to lethal methods—guns, poisons, and traps—to resolve conflicts with wildlife pose one of the greatest obstacles to grizzly bear recovery, said Russ Talmo, Rockies and Plains program associate at Defenders of Wildlife. As an incentive to participate, the program subsidizes the cost of electric fences (up to a maximum of $500) and provides technical assistance to landowners and producers interested in adding them to their properties. The program appears to be working toward its goal of not just reducing conflicts, said Talmo, but also "fostering greater tolerance for bears on the landscape."
Over their two days of pounding T-posts and moving fence panels on the Montana plains, the team of wildlife advocates and apiarists bonded. "It felt like a bunch of friends coming together for a weekend work project, like building a neighbor's barn," Few said.
A permanent electrified panel fence protects one of Sunshine Apiary's bee yards from bears in South Central, Montana.NRDC
In recent years, NRDC and Wildlife Services have partnered on related projects, including installing electric fencing called fladry to protect cattle and sheep from bears and wolves in the northern Rockies. The organizations have had differences in the past regarding predator control practices, so their united efforts are meaningful, said Strong. "I hope and believe that our collaborations will continue and expand in Montana and beyond," he added.
Montana's diverse and abundant wildlife is one of the things that make the state special, Strong said, even though it can present challenges. By supporting projects that mitigate wildlife conflicts, NRDC can help foster win-win solutions, good for businesses and communities, and for wildlife and natural landscapes, too.
Strong counts hundreds of bee yards in bear country throughout Montana that still lack bear-proof fencing. There are plenty of posts left to pound into the ground. "But with every fence we build, we create a more bear-friendly landscape," he said. His hope is that as the fences build up a record of success, more and more honey producers will be interested in partnering—making better neighbors out of the bears and the bees, and Montanans, too.
Corey Binns is a science and health writer based in Northern California. Her work has appeared in publications such as Popular Science, Marie Claire, TODAY.com, Scientific American Mind, Psychology Today, Women's Health, the New York Times, and msnbc.com. Binns was also named Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Journalism Fellow by the Association of Health Care Journalists in 2009.
Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.
By Betsy Mason
For decades, climate scientist David Keith of Harvard University has been trying to get people to take his research seriously. He's a pioneer in the field of geoengineering, which aims to combat climate change through a range of technological fixes. Over the years, ideas have included sprinkling iron in the ocean to stimulate plankton to suck up more carbon from the atmosphere or capturing carbon straight out of the air.
Solar geoengineering would involve injecting reflective aerosols from high-altitude planes into the layer of the upper atmosphere known as the stratosphere, which stretches between 10 to 50 kilometers (6 to 31 miles) above Earth's surface. The idea is that the aerosol particles would reflect a small amount of sunlight away from the planet, reducing the amount of heat trapped by greenhouse gases and mitigating some of the effects of climate change.
The planned Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment will send a balloon carrying scientific instruments in a gondola into the stratosphere. The instruments will release a small amount of material — likely ice or mineral dust — to form a kilometer-long plume of aerosol particles (left). Modified airboat propellers will allow the gondola to maneuver above the plume (middle) and lower instruments into the plume to take repeated measurements of how the particles spread through the stratosphere (right). ADAPTED FROM J.A. DYKEMA ET AL / PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY A 2014
David Keith envisions using multiple approaches to combat climate change. The red line shows how the impacts of climate change would worsen with a business-as-usual scenario of unabated burning of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas emissions. Aggressively cutting emissions bends that curve, and removing carbon from the atmosphere offers further cuts, but there are still consequences from the already high levels of carbon dioxide. In this scenario, solar geoengineering would lessen the impact from existing atmospheric carbon dioxide, effectively carving the top off the curve.<p>Some people think we should use it only as a get-out-of-jail card in an emergency. Some people think we should use it to quickly try to get back to a preindustrial climate. I'm arguing we use solar geoengineering to cut the top off the curve by gradually starting it and gradually ending it.</p><p><strong>Do you feel optimistic about the chances that solar geoengineering will happen and can make a difference in the climate crisis?</strong></p><p>I'm not all that optimistic right now because we seem to be so much further away from an international environment that's going to allow sensible policy. And that's not just in the US. It's a whole bunch of European countries with more populist regimes. It's Brazil. It's the more authoritarian India and China. It's a more nationalistic world, right? It's a little hard to see a global, coordinated effort in the near term. But I hope those things will change.</p>
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