The sound of honeybees smacking into the car windshield disturbs Mike Burlingame of Kennewick each week as he drives through Burbank on Highway 12 on his way to Walla Walla.
“It’s been going on for at least two years now and it bugs the bejeebees out of me,” he said.
He calculates that he kills between five and 15 honeybees each time he drives through the area, which is near fields planted with blueberries.
“I don’t care about the mess on the windshield. I just don’t understand how they can sustain the losses. If you do the math, they must lose thousands of bees daily to passing vehicles,” he said.
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But Ed Kellie, president of the Mid-Columbia Beekeepers Association, said beekeepers who specialize in pollinating crops are aware of the problem and do consider it when they place their hives.
“It’s kind of like the lions and wildebeest — you have to outproduce what you lose to predation,” he said.
Jacob Differding of C&R Farms in Pasco, which owns the Burbank hives, said he’d prefer not to have passing motorists kill the bees either, but said pesticides pose more of a problem. C&R Farms has about 1,000 colonies in Burbank. The colonies will be moved out soon as nectar-producing flowers are past their prime.
“We just have a real problem with a lack of stockpile locations,” Differding said, explaining bees can travel up to three miles from their hive for food and water. “We have to take what we can get.”
Under ideal conditions, when overnight temperatures are warmer, queen bees lay an average of 2,000 eggs per day, Kellie said.
He said there are only so many options for pollinators with large colonies because the bees require access to water and forage to survive.
Sometimes, that means the beehives end up along the side of a busy highway.
“You have to park them somewhere. You also need to factor in expenses, such as fuel, if you want to move them,” Kellie said.
Kellie said he’s confident pollinators are “very aware” of their losses. He cites an example of one in California that includes a surcharge when his customers have him place the hives near Interstate 5.
Burlingame, an avid gardener, says he’s been hearing for years how honeybees are being threatened by disease and pesticides, and he understands their importance to agriculture in America.
He says he and his wife, Janie, have talked about someday moving to a place with a couple acres and having their own beehives.
“I’m just being an advocate for the bees,” he said.