Original Published 11:27 Apr 29, 2022

By Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative

A new study researching the impacts of parasitic mites on the health of local bees is planned to get underway this summer.

The BC Honey Producers Association was recently granted $27,880 through the Site C Peace Agricultural Compensation Fund, established to mitigate impacts on agriculture from the $16-billion megaproject on the Peace River.

The mites, called varroa destructors, feed on bees and have become a serious threat for beekeepers since the 1980s, spreading viruses that can severely cripple hives by causing the bees to grow deformed wings, or become too weak to survive the harsh winters of Northern B.C.

Kerry Clark, association president and a long-time beekeeper in Dawson Creek, says the study is much needed, with the group hiring a bee expert to collect and study data from local hives around the Peace region.

“It’s a very important aspect of beekeeping. The decision points for beekeepers on how to manage this parasitic mite is really affecting beekeeping all over the world, and we have this added challenge of the long winters up here,” said Clark. “People have developed skills to keep the bees healthy as much as they can, but it is a challenge.”

Researcher and bee expert Nuria Morfin will spearhead the study, bringing more than half a decade of experience as a beekeeper, bee inspector, and scientist. The plan is to sample for viruses spread by the mites, she said, and use the analysis to better inform beekeeping practices.

“We’re hoping to go to the region at the beginning of June and the again in the fall, it depends of course on weather conditions, the availability of beekeepers, and with beekeeping we always keep an eye on the seasonality and based that we will plan our trip,” she said, noting the mites are associated with heightened bee colony mortality across North America.

“Trying to control the mite is a challenge for beekeepers, and there’s not just one solution or treatment that can be applied, so they have to rely on integrated pest management, and it’s based on monitoring mite levels.”

Clark says the region’s beekeeping industry was much stronger more than 40 years ago, boasting 20,000 hives from small local producers, with only about 2,000 today – a tenfold drop. Mites were a factor in the decline, she said.

“It’s present in virtually every colony of honeybees in a region. It doesn’t move itself, but honeybees themselves drift a little bit between apiary sites,” said Clark. “That spreads the mites around, and that’s all it takes: just one female mite to get into a hive and then she starts reproducing.”

The Alberta Peace is no stranger to research initiatives, added Clark, with a federal apiculture research station established in Beaverlodge over 60 years ago. A beekeeper’s field day is hosted every year, an educational convention for beekeepers and bee enthusiasts in the region.

This item reprinted with permission from Alaska Highway News, Fort St. John, British Columbia