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Mysterious Bee Disease on the Rise in Erie Region

LINESVILLE -- The mystery prompted Charlie Vorisek to point his Dodge pickup toward Baxley, Ga., where an important parcel awaited him.

Advertisement The 55-year-old and his wife, Cathy, left on a recent Saturday, stayed in a motel overnight, quickly took care of business, and drove back that Sunday to their Crawford County home.

Sure, the 30-hour round trip, combined with little time actually spent at their destination, defied the unofficial laws of a long-distance road trip. But these are tough times for the Linesville-area beekeeper.

Colony collapse disorder, the mysterious worldwide epidemic of bee die-offs that showed signs of easing throughout the Erie region in 2009, is being seen as the culprit in decimating the region's honeybee population this spring.

The disorder is also putting Vorisek's business as a custom pollinator for local produce farmers in jeopardy.

Which is why Vorisek and his wife drove back from Georgia with 80 3-pound packages of honeybees securely fastened inside their truck. That's about 960,000 bees.

"No bees, no business," said Vorisek, who also serves as president of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Beekeepers Association. Georgia and some other warm-weather states have less of a colony collapse problem than Pennsylvania.

Vorisek, like many other beekeepers throughout this region, had to replenish his bee farm. The hive disease eliminated 60 of his 100 honeybee colonies this past winter and spring.

An April survey of the Beekeepers Association's 130 members, many of whom are hobbyists, revealed the group had lost 66 percent of its honeybee hives, a staggering decline in the region's bee population.

A similar survey in April 2008 showed a 36 percent decline, and another in April 2009 recorded only a 30 percent dip, which Vorisek and others believed were positive signs that bees were making a slow comeback.

"The losses this year are pretty devastating," Vorisek said. "I expected some, but nowhere near this amount."

Beekeepers, scientists and researchers have been unable to unravel the mystery of colony collapse disorder, or why it cut such a disruptive path throughout northwestern Pennsylvania this year.

How the disorder continues to play out in this region will be a key to spring fruit crops, officials said, and whether customers will see price increases for cherries, peaches and strawberries, among other fruits in late summer and early fall.

Nearly one-third of what we eat depends on honeybees for pollination nationwide, beekeepers here said. More than 100 crops are pollinated by those bees, said Andy Muza, fruit crop specialist for the Erie County Cooperative Extension.

"Colony collapse disorder is a serious problem both here and across the United States," Muza said. "If you don't have enough pollination, you could see a major reduction in crops."

Pinpointing a cause for the disorder is still elusive four years after the first case was reported. 


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