Monday, August 31 , 2015, 11:26 pm | Fair 70.0º




Pesticides Take Toll for Backyard Beekeepers in Montecito

Test results link toxic chemicals to a die-off affecting about 750,000 honeybees within a 1.5-mile radius

Carrie Kappel examines her new swarm of bees, which she and her children tend in a hive in their Montecito backyard. Pesticides have been blamed for killing her previous swarm.

Carrie Kappel examines her new swarm of bees, which she and her children tend in a hive in their Montecito backyard. Pesticides have been blamed for killing her previous swarm.  (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

By Gina Potthoff, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @ginapotthoff |

Carrie Kappel had just returned from a weeklong trip last October when she noticed something was amiss in her Montecito backyard.

Piles of dead and dying honeybees littered the inside and outside of the thriving beehive she and her two young children had been watching over since April.

Still an amateur beekeeper, Kappel called friends at the Santa Barbara Beekeepers Association to figure out why large numbers of her 30,000 to 50,000 honeybees were twitching, unable to fly and dying.

Within three weeks, they were all dead.

Sixteen formerly healthy hives within a 1.5-mile radius — about 750,000 bees total — were lost in the same time period.

Local beekeepers recently learned that a combination of pesticide chemicals highly toxic to bees most likely were the cause of the Montecito die-off, according to results from samples tested in an Agriculture Department lab.

The news wasn’t entirely surprising to those in the beekeeping community, most of whom know that few sources could annihilate the source of their hobby so quickly.

“We did our best to try to save them, but they went so fast,” said Kappel, a marine ecologist at UC Santa Barbara. “It was heartbreaking. I felt really connected with them.”

While beekeepers are still upset, SBBA leaders are hopeful that spreading the word will help prevent a recurrence by making community members aware of the potential dangers of pesticides for honeybees and other pollinators.

SBBA vice president Todd Bebb said this week that no one knows the exact source of the pesticide traces — bifenthrin, chlorpyrifos, cyhalothrin and fipronil — nor do they care.

He urged community members to talk to their gardeners, pest control company or anyone else who should be using products properly. Many detected chemicals are explicitly labeled as toxic to bees or for nonresidential use, Bebb added.

“One of these colonies or a couple of them must’ve been exposed to any number of these pesticides,” he said. “This is the first time that we’ve had this type of die-off. It was sad. That’s a lot of hives in a small area.”

Bebb estimated there are 200 to 400 backyard beekeepers in the Santa Barbara area who are properly registered with the Santa Barbara County Agriculture Commissioner’s Office.

With an official cause determined, Kappel this week received her second starter swarm of about 3,000 bees, which has already grown to about 5,000 in the yellow box she uses as a hive in the corner of her property.

She fearlessly stood beside the beehive and then donned protective head garb and gloves to check on the “sweet bees,” which hopefully will outgrow her last hive with time.

“My new little baby beehive,” said Kappel, noting that she’s never used pesticides or chemicals. “I’ve just always loved bees ... and honey. As a biologist, I’ve been fascinated.”

She’s looking forward to harvesting honey this fall, and so are her children, Charlie, 5, and Lily, 2.

“Unfortunately, none of the kids got any honey this year,” Kappel said.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.




comments powered by Disqus

» on 02.02.13 @ 11:24 AM

Dreadful! How very strange (and unfortunate) that the SBBA is not interested in/want to know the source of this poisoning. 1.5 radius suggests a diameter of 3 miles. That’s a lot of territory—- and it would be worth getting whoever’s doing this dirty work stopped.

Valley Club, Birnam Wood, SY Ranch, the lemon ranch east of Sheffield Dr, private homeowner(s) on the few remaining large estates?

» on 02.02.13 @ 01:25 PM

An important DVD to rent (NetFl*x or elsewhere)is “Vanishing of the Bees” Highly recommend. This isn’t a small problem, its worldwide. And it doesn’t effect just beekeepers, but farmers with crops that need pollination by bees. And Europe is way ahead of us in acknowledging it and taking steps to solve it. Here in the US, the powerful lobbies of the companies that create agricultural chemicals and GMO’s seem to have all the power and influence. What is the point of the EPA and other governmental bodies if all the top people are in the pockets of the chemical companies?

» on 02.02.13 @ 02:32 PM

People definitely need to tell their gardeners to STOP the pesticides!!  This is not just that hive, but hives all over the country, and we are losing bees that are so important to OUR survival!!

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