Bee deaths soar in this year’s pollination season, but why is proving to be a whodunit Read more here:

As a beekeeper, Rafael Reynaga is used to losing a few bees during almond pollination. But he was unprepared for the death of tens of thousands of his bees in what Fresno County agriculture officials are calling a perfect storm of events.

“It was really bad,” said Reynaga of Reedley. “I picked up one of the boxes and there were at least 10 pounds of dead bees.”

Since early February, the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office has been investigating at least 12 cases of bee deaths in eastern and western Fresno County, more than three times what normally happens. Beekeepers say the total death toll is at least 800,000 bees, possibly more. Dollar losses to beekeepers vary from about $100,000 to $1 million.

“This may be the most we have ever seen,” said Stace Leoni, Fresno County deputy agricultural commissioner. “But there could be multiple factors for what caused this, not just one thing.”

Leoni estimates that as many as 8,000 hives may be affected.

“Bees are such an important part of agriculture and to see this happen is disheartening,” said Joe Traynor, a Kern County bee broker. “To me, this is a result of people not following the rules.”

But Leoni and Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner Les Wright say it’s not that simple. The bee deaths may be the result of a combination of factors, including pesticide spraying, humid weather, and the encroachment of almond acreage into areas that traditionally have been home to tree fruit.

Agriculture officials said it doesn’t help matters when beekeepers don’t register their hives with the county. The registration allows the county to let farmers know if there are any bees in the area where they plan to apply pesticides. If there are, farmers are obligated to let the beekeeper know about any planned applications so that they can protect their bees by covering them or moving them out of the area.

“If they don’t register, there is no way for the farmer to contact the beekeeper,” Wright said. “And we are starting to run into problems that we haven’t had in the past.”

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