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Prineville beekeeper says more smoke could mean fewer bees

Unhealthy air quality shortens bees' foraging and pollination time

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The dense smoke from Oregon’s ravaging wildfires is not only unhealthy for humans and pets, but also for the region’s pollinators.

Richard Nichols, a retired beekeeper in Prineville, said Monday the smoke causes bees to become more aggressive and affects how they forage.

Foraging refers to the bees going out in search of nectar, which will eventually be turned into honey and stored as a food source for the winter.

“The rabbitbrush right now is the big thing for fall feeding,” Nichol said. “The amount of time the bees have to forage on it is cut down. That means they’re losing.”

He said if the smoke gets worse, bees could refuse to leave their hive and go into survival mode.

Nichols said he started beekeeping about 10 years ago and was a member of the Central Oregon Beekeeping Association.

Although the High Desert has been through many past fire seasons, Nichols said the smoke density has never been as bad as it is now.

Nichols said as a result, the four hives behind his house have more bees than usual, and that means their food source is spreading thin.

“Hundreds of bees feed off the source for winter, but right now, there are thousands of bees in there,” he said. “So, you take away the amount of honey they are storing for winter, add the amount of thousands of bees eating a day and it reduces the amount of honey they have for stores in the winter.”

Nichols said less honey for bees means even less honey on the market for humans. 

“It means there’s less honey on the market, and this is running from British Columbia all the way through California,” Nichols said. “It’s kind of like water under a bridge -- once it’s gone, it’s gone, you know?”

Nichols said only time will tell whether the High Desert will see fewer bees next spring, and a possible honey shortage.

For more information about beekeeping, visit the Central Oregon Beekeeping Association.

Central Oregon / Fire Alert / Prineville / Top Stories / Wildlife
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Rhea Panela

Rhea Panela is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Rhea here.

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