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Beekeepers lose thousands of hives

Shannon Livick
Cortez Journal
Vail, CO Colorado
AP Photo/The Cortez Journal, Bob FitzgeraldA new bee colony moves down into the frames of a hive in this photograph taken April 3 outside Cortez.
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CORTEZ ” For 60 years, Montezuma County beekeeper Lynn Ellis has inspected his hives every spring to see how the bees wintered.

This year, Ellis found nothing but bad news when he opened the weathered boxes. Nearly half his hives had either disappeared or died.

“I’ve never seen this many die,” Ellis said.



Ellis, 78, had 100 hives at the beginning of the winter, and he ended the season with 50.

He is not alone. Beekeepers across the United States are reporting significant bee fatalities.

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For years, beekeepers have battled mites, namely the varroa and tracheal mites, that have devastated bee populations. But for Ellis, this is the worst he has seen.

Now the high mortality rate is attributed to a different enemy: colony collapse disorder. Ellis said the experts are still trying to discover what causes the disorder. Beekeepers across the nation are reporting their bees are simply vanishing ” not returning to the hives.

Jerry Cochran, apiary program manager for the Colorado Department of Agriculture, said the disorder mainly hits beekeepers who move their bees around as a pollination service.



Cochran said one beekeeper from the San Luis Valley reported he started the winter with 6,000 bee hives and emerged with only 1,000.

“People researching this have come up with no single cause,” Cochran said.

Colorado does not have an official regulatory program for bees, but Cochran said he is tracking the problem.

In reading research and interviewing beekeepers, Cochran said, “the only common factor is these bees have experienced some sort of stress.”

Cochran said one major cause of stress is moving the bees.

Brad Milligin, a second-generation beekeeper from Lewis, has had problems with his bees the last few years. Milligin just brought his bees back from California, where they pollinated almond orchards.

He said he had about 2,200 hives last year. Now, he has 1,600.

“Our bees have basically been struggling for about three years,” he said. “They have just been hanging on a thread.”

That is when Milligin noticed something strange.

“They didn’t die, but all of our oldest bees, the ones that do all the physical labor collecting pollen and nectar, were just gone,” he said.

Of the 1,600 hives Milligin took to California, 600 of them could not do their job because their numbers were so low, he said. “They didn’t make me any money, but I brought them back alive,” he said.

Milligin, whose family has been in the beekeeping business for 38 years, said this is the toughest year for bees.

“They are just suffering from so many maladies now,” he said.

The price of honey likely will rise this year because of the problems beekeepers have faced, Milligin said.

Cochran believes several factors cause colony collapse disorder, including the food many beekeepers feed to their bees.

“A lot of guys experiencing this are feeding high fructose corn syrup,” he said.

On a recent Tuesday, Ellis was busy replacing bees that either died or disappeared. He had just returned from California, where he picked up 50 cages, each containing thousands of worker bees and a queen.

Ellis estimated he spent $3,000 to replace his hives.

“Beekeepers have had a hard time of it,” Cochran said.


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