What's Killing The Honeybees?

In California the almond orchards are in blossom and millions of honeybees are at work, pollinating, doing a job only they can do.

Almonds are the first big bloom of the season and the first big test of honeybee health, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports.

"It's not a vibrant hive, it's not full of bees," said Brett Adee. "A hive this time of year should be just busting bees. And it's just a scrawny little bee hive."

Adee, whose family runs the largest beekeeping operation in the country, says bees are dying at least as fast as they did last year.

"It's off the chart this year. It's not a sustainable thing, what's happening now," he said.

What's happening in the almond orchards doesn't bode well for crops everywhere that require pollination.

U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher Jeff Pettis has been tracking the bee die off.

"Certainly if the bees are not in almonds they're not going to be available for apples and pears and vine crops: the fruits and vegetables we need," he said.

What is called "colony collapse disorder" hit bee keepers in more than half the country last spring. Now it has spread to all but a handful of states.

Hives can go from healthy and active to dead and gone. Theories on what's bugging the bees include mites and viruses and pesticides to poor nutrition. Maybe all of those together.

"That's been a frustrating part," Pettis said. "We know some things that are contributing, but we can't point to a single factor as a cause."

Two years ago Louise Rossberg had nearly a thousand hives. Now she has just 200 and is struggling to stay in business.

"What else am I going to do?" Rossberg asked. "I like doing bees, I've been here so long."

But Rossberg has lost so much income, her house is in foreclosure, and even the spring blossoms don't seem to bring much hope.

"I've lost my home, I've lost my vehicle, let's see, so I'm living with a friend right now," she said.

But beekeepers say this isn't just a crisis for them - it's a crisis for everyone.

"I mean bees are vital element to the production of food in this country and if we can't feed ourselves, then we got a problem," Adee said.

As an essential link in the food chain, the hardworking bee has suddenly become the weakest link.
  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.

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