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'Bee sanctuaries' are springing up across San Francisco rooftops to combat their population's steady decline


(NaturalNews) A number of San Francisco hotels say that they are doing their part to stem falling populations of honeybees, by constructing rooftop sanctuaries for the critical pollinating insects. Seven luxury hotels in the city now provide hive space for millions of bees.

Global honeybee numbers have fallen by an alarming 70 percent in the past 70 years, due to a combination of stressors that seem to have worsened in recent decades.

"When I started almost 50 years ago, if I lost two or three percent of my bees a year, that was like, 'What's going on?'" said Spencer Marshall, now a beekeeper at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel. "Now you lose 50, 60 percent. And it's not sustainable."

Doing their part

Thus far, efforts to stem the honeybee decline seem to be failing. In the spring of 2015, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey concluded that more than 40 percent of honeybee colonies in the country had died in the prior year, just when "experts" had been starting to declare the colony collapse crisis ended.

The worst 2014–2015 die-offs occurred during the summer, typically the best time for bees.

"What we're seeing with this bee problem is just a loud signal that there's some bad things happening with our agro-ecosystems," said Keith Delaplane, co-author of the USDA report. "We just happen to notice it with the honeybee because they are so easy to count."

In 2010, the Fairmont became the first hotel in San Francisco to set up a bee sanctuary, in order to do its small part to boost honeybee numbers. When he was first approached to help with the project, Marshall assumed the hotel just wanted to set up a small hive for PR purposes. But the roof of the hotel now produces 1,000 pounds of honey per year.

The Clift Hotel in Union square installed its own sanctuary just a year ago, starting with a queen and 10,000 other bees. The bee population atop the hotel's roof is expected to reach 800,000 by early next year.

Hotel general manager Michael Pace says many visitors ask him how there can be enough food for the bees in such an urban area.

"You'd be surprised," he says.

Indeed, the bees have plenty of forage among the gardens, trees and parks of San Francisco. So much so, that the hotels with bee sanctuaries are producing enough honey to start using it in their restaurants, producing dishes from salads to honey ales. They even use it in their in-house spa treatments.

Habitat is key

With all the media attention that has focused on the threat to bees from pathogens, such as the varroa mite, and pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, a more profound threat to bee and pollinator populations has gone largely overlooked: habitat loss.

But loss of habitat for foraging may be the largest threat underlying global pollinator loss, with poor nutrition and stress making pollinators more highly vulnerable to acute stressors like disease and toxic chemicals.

In the United States, much of the wildflower-covered land that pollinators use for foraging has been converted to agricultural uses to take advantage of rising food prices. Since just 2007, the amount of land held for conservation by the USDA has dropped by more than half.

This habitat loss, and the loss of pollinators along with it, is likely to soon have a very personal and immediate impact on most human beings. That's because honeybees alone are responsible for pollinating $15 billion worth of food crops annually, just in the United States.

And wild pollinators may be even more important. A 2013 study in the journal Science found that crops visited by wild pollinators yield significantly more food, regardless of whether honeybees visit them or not.

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