ENCINITAS — “When was the last time you saw a bumble bee?” Quentin Alexander posed a rhetorical question to a reporter. “You don’t. They just aren’t around.”
Alexander, a beehive removal specialist in Encinitas, has been trying to raise awareness about the plight of the plump black and yellow cousins of the more common honeybee.
This week, he transported what he believes to be one of North County’s last large hives of bumblebees from a Leucadia property to Elfin Forest, in hopes of moving the bees away from harmful pesticides and insecticides that have decimated bumblebee populations worldwide.
“I’m so scared for these bumble bees,” Alexander said Nov. 5. “If we don’t do something, they’re going to go extinct in our generation.”
Most people, Alexander said, are aware of the woes plaguing honeybee populations, as colony collapse disorder, which entomologists believe is caused by exposure to neonicotinoids, has decimated hives worldwide.
Few people, Alexander and other experts said, are aware that bumblebees, which are native to North America, are experiencing the same — or even worse — declines.
Rich Hatfield is a senior conservation biologist with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which is the leading advocacy group for honeybee and bumblebee conservation. Hatfield authored the guidelines on best practices for bumble bee conservation.
While he said he couldn’t speak to the veracity of Alexander’s claims that the hive is one of the last remaining in North San Diego County, he did say that nearly one fourth of bumble bee species face extinction. The Franklin’s bumblebee, native to Northern California and Southern Oregon, was declared critically endangered in 2004 and the rusty patched bumblebee was put on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services endangered species list in 2016.
“There is really good evidence that bumble bees are facing equal, if not more serious decline than honeybees,” said Hatfield, who said that honeybee colony collapse is more akin to an agricultural issue than an extinction event, which is what many species face.
Hatfield said that commercially raised bumble bees have spread diseases to native populations, and pesticide use in California — especially in the Central Valley — has decimated those populations.
Climate change and drought have also taken a toll on bee habitat.
Additionally, he said, humans have knocked down bumble bee habitat to make way for homes and development.
People can do their part in helping rebuild the populations by providing bees a safe place to build their nests, refraining from using neonicotinoids and even creating habitat on portions of land to foster the growth of the hive, Hatfield said.
Alexander said he has tried to get businesses along Coast Highway 101 with landscaping to pledge to stop using insecticides that include that chemical and herbicides that contain Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.
To date, he said, none of the businesses have obliged.
“They just don’t care,” he said.
Alexander said he contacted landowners in Elfin Forest, who appeared receptive to hosting the bumblebee hive, which Alexander first discovered in Bonita, moved to Oceanside and then to Leucadia.
He said he hopes it gives the insects a chance to thrive.