Bill would protect state’s bee hives

LIHU‘E — State legislators are trying to protect Hawai‘i’s bee hives from a pesky  South African beetle a half-centimeter long.

House Bill 2100 proposes to appropriate funds for the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo to further study methods of fighting the small hive beetle. The insect was first discovered in the United States in 1996 and in Hilo on the Big Island in April 2010, according to the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture. The pest has since been detected on O‘ahu, Maui and Molokai. Kaua‘i is thought to be still free of the beetle.

“The development of better control methods in eradicating the small hive beetle — a major pest that threatens honey bee hives on the island of Hawai‘i — will help in stabilizing our loss of hives attributed to this pest,” said Rep. Jimmy Tokioka, D-15th District.

Bee pollination of agricultural crops in the United States is said to account for about one-third of the nation’s diet, and studies estimate the value of honey bees as commercial pollinators in the country at somewhere between $15 billion and $20 billion annually, according to a 2010 report prepared for Congress.

The report states that honey bees in the U.S. are thought to pollinate as much as 100 percent of almond trees, and 90 percent of apple trees, onions, broccoli, carrots and sunflowers, and many other vegetables and fruits.

“Loss of hives is a major threat to our agricultural economy on all islands because bees are needed to help pollinate our crops,” Tokioka said. “ With that in mind, there is a need for the University of Hawai‘i system  to further its research on bee hives statewide.”

UH Hilo has been offering an introductory course on beekeeping for more than 20 years, providing students with hands-on experience with honey bee hives at the university’s 110-acre farm located in Panaewa. The university also offers an advanced beekeeping course that allows students to build upon their acquired skills with independent projects that include research and creative activities, according to HB 2100.

Research at the Panaewa farm seeks to develop more efficient methods for controlling the small hive beetle, which has become a major pest to honey bee hives on the Big Island and has led to significant hive loss, the bill states.

The bill passed a third reading in the House of Representatives Tuesday. The first time the bill was amended,  it proposed an appropriation of $10,000 for each county and another $10,000 for the university’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management.

After being amended by the House Finance Committee Friday, all appropriations were deleted, according to staff members for Committee Chair Rep. Marcus Oshiro, D-39th District.

“This is a standard procedure done by the Finance Committee to continue discussion on the measure while the House Finance and Senate Ways and Means committees determine the amount of revenue available for programming and other operational costs,” a staff member said.

Neil Reimer, a state Agriculture Department plant pest control branch manager,  said in May 2010 that the small hive beetle would be difficult to eradicate and control because it also feeds on decaying fruits, which are abundant in the wild.

The small hive beetle, or Aethina tumida, as an adult is about four millimeters to five millimeters in length and is yellow-brown in color, turning brown and then black as it matures, according to the agriculture agency.

The beetles feed on honey, pollen, wax, honey bee eggs and larvae and tunnel through the honeycomb, damaging or destroying the honeycomb and contaminating the honey. Symptoms of an infestation include discolored honey, an odor of decaying oranges, and fermentation and frothiness in the honey, state agriculture authorities state. Heavy infestations can cause bee colonies to abandon hives.

The bill moved from the state House to the state Senate on Thursday. The Senate referred the bill to its Education, Agriculture and Ways and Means committees.

Visit www.capitol.hawaii.gov for more information.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

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