First Bee Species Declared Endangered, Beekeepers Concerned for Honeybees

Bees are a crucial pollination tool for many Northern Michigan farmers and businesses.

The rusty patched bumblebee is the first bumblebee to be listed as endangered.

It used to be common in the east and upper Midwest.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service says scattered populations remain in 13 states, including Michigan, and one Canadian province.

Scientists say causes for the population drop may include diseases, pesticide exposure, habitat loss, and climate change.

9&10’s Caroline Powers and photojournalist Jeremy Erickson found out how these dangers also have an impact on honeybees.

“The bees are like the backbone of our whole business here.”

At Sleeping Bear Farms in Benzie County, bees are a necessity.

“Northern Michigan is huge in agricultural production and diversity,” says Kirk Jones, owner of Sleeping Bear Farms and St. Ambrose Cellars. “We need the bees, we need the beekeepers.”

Sleeping Bear Farms works with millions of honeybees, using them for pollination and their honey to make dozens of products.

“Everybody relies on honeybees. Without honeybees we’d probably lose 1/3 to 1/2 of the foods we eat. So they’re critical for our food supply,” Jones says.

But diseases, pesticides, and habitat loss have led to many problems.

The rusty patched bumblebee was recently declared endangered, and honeybees might not be far behind.

“The bumblebee is closely related to the honeybee,” says JJ McMahon, beekeeper. So as the federal government allocates putting it on the endangered species list, it should free up some federal funding and programs that define why some of these problems are happening that would link into our honeybees too.

Even in the winter, honeybees are hard at work for Sleeping Bear Farms. Beekeepers say it’s important to protect these honeybees so they can continue to have a high-quality product on their shelves.

“Everything here depends on the bees, all of the honey and our pollination. Without the bees we can’t do any of it, our wine or any of our products are gone,” McMahon says. “So it’s just finding that fine line where everybody’s happy that the farmers happy and the beekeeper cans toll provide the service for them.”