You have heard a rumour that the number of bees has actually increased despite the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides. This may have shaken your concern about neonics, as it was intended to do. It is true that hive numbers have increased over the last 20 years according to Statistics Canada.
There are now over 8,700 beekeepers in Canada keeping almost 700,000 hives.
So why is this factoid largely irrelevant in assessing neonicotinoids? Because the honey bees are a completely managed, industrially-produced species.
Honeybees are an introduced Eurasian species. They are not native to the Americas. European settlers brought them to produce honey. Naturally, they escaped and began competing with the many species of domestic bees. Before long there were many “feral” honey bee colonies competing with the native species.
Those wild honeybees have virtually disappeared as a result of the introduction of Varroa mites, possibly from Thailand. These nasties attach themselves to bees and feed on their blood. For the bees, living with Varroa destructor is like living in a hotel infested with frisbee-sized bedbugs. The mites had a major effect on commercial bees and are still a serious problem, although they don’t threaten the total population. Honey bee survival is not threatened.
Honeybees are now almost 100% domestic. They can’t even survive in the wild. They are manufactured to provide pollination services: human beings manage the entire population. They are a commodity like plastic forks.
In the market, the number of honey bees depends on the price paid for pollination services. Beekeepers can divide their hives or buy bees form commercial breeders. They can buy a new queen as well. The number of honey bees is simply the number beekeepers want. Colony Collapse Disorder: The Market Response to Bee Disease by Randal R. Rucker & Walter N. Thurman describes the process well.
That means Margaret Wente is right – she doesn’t have to worry about a honey shortage.
But the number of domestic bees is totally irrelevant if you are interested in all the other bee species. It is irrelevant if you want to think about the effect of neonics on bird species. And it is irrelevant if you are discussing pesticide policy.