California’s Drought Is Making Life Harder For Honeybees

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach

California’s extreme drought is taking its toll on honeybees and honey producers in the state.

Lack of rainfall has made the state’s native flowering plants less abundant, and it’s also taken its toll on the state’s farmers, forcing some of them to decrease the amount of land they keep productive as water prices soar. That means that honeybees in California — a state that’s one of the largest in terms of honey production — don’t have as much to forage on as they usually do.

That’s made it harder than usual for California’s honey producers to keep up with production. Since the drought began three years ago, California’s honey crop has fallen from 27.5 million pounds in 2010 to 10.9 million pounds in 2013, the AP reports. The drought is also contributing to rising honey prices — a pound of honey has increased from $3.83 to $6.32 over the last eight years.

The lack of foraging plants in California has prompted some beekeepers to take their bees to other states to forage. Others are feeding their bees more sugar syrup than they typically would in order to keep them fed — but that practice is expensive, as one beekeeper told the AP.

“Not only are you feeding as an expense, but you aren’t gaining any income.” beekeeper Mike Brandi said. “If this would persist, you’d see higher food costs, higher pollination fees and unfortunately higher prices for the commodity of honey.”

The drought is just the latest thing to pose a threat to managed honeybee populations. Across the globe, commercial honeybee populations have been declining for more than a decade. The decline is largely attributed to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon in which adult bees in a colony simply disappear from their hives. A federal report this year found that losses last winter in the U.S. were less steep than the winter before, but bee populations are still struggling — as one entomologist told the New York Times, the new report shows that bee losses have gone “from horrible to bad.”

But honeybees and honey producers aren’t the only ones suffering in the midst of California’s extreme drought. The dry weather has been hard on wild salmon: as NPR reports, thousands of Chinook salmon in northern California’s Klamath River are struggling to survive in shallow, warm waters. The river’s flows have been diverted so that it can better serve California’s agriculture-heavy Central Valley, but that means the water left for the salmon has grown dangerously warm. Gill rot, a fatal disease in salmon, thrives in warm waters, so people in California — especially the local tribes who depend heavily on the salmon — are worried that if cool water isn’t let into the river soon, many of the salmon could die.

Salmon and steelhead are already dying in California’s Salmon River, due to warm water and low water flows. In July, a population assessment found 300 to 600 juvenile fish — mainly Chinook — died before they got a chance to spawn. As of July, the Salmon River is running at 181 cubic feet per second — far below the average flow of 438 cubic feet per second, a low flow that’s been fueled by the drought and decreased snowpack. The drought also forced California to ship about 50 percent more young Chinook salmon by truck to the Pacific Ocean than it usually does, due to worries that the young fish wouldn’t make it to the ocean if they swam through warm, depleted rivers.