Front Range

The Buzz

Local beekeeper Tom Theobald talks honeybee woes, EPA excuses, and the future of agriculture.

July 2011

A year ago this month, Niwot beekeeper Tom Theobald attracted the attention of EPA higher-ups when he challenged the agency’s approval of clothianidin, a neurotoxic pesticide that was determined—by the EPA itself, no less—to have toxic effects on the honeybee. Today, eight months after EPA scientists reviewed the original study, Theobald’s warnings are still being ignored: Clothianidin is still on the market, and Colorado’s bee population is still vanishing at an alarming rate.

  • A lot has happened since we last talked to you (“The Plight of the Honeybee,” May 2008 issue of 5280). Can you update us on the situation? The U.S. honey crop in 2009 was the lowest ever recorded. Colony losses continue to top 50 percent each year. My 2010 honey crop was the smallest it’s been in 35 years.
  • What’s the most frustrating part about the whole controversy? The seeming indifference, even hostility, on the part of those who should be concerned. Science is used as a weapon rather than as a tool—poor science is defended, while good science is disregarded. The USDA, EPA, and Congress have done little beyond offering excuses for inaction and word games—rhetoric in place of substance.
  • Why are bees so important? We like to eat three meals every day, and the pollination provided by the bees is responsible for one out of every three bites we put into our mouths. Without honeybees, our food system is unsustainable.
  • In an ideal world, what would the solution be? The immediate removal of products like clothianidin, which are causing widespread environmental damage that goes far beyond the bees.
  • If clothianidin remains on the market, what are the implications for Colorado’s agricultural industry? The beekeeping industry is in for dark days in many parts of the state, and ultimately other areas of agriculture will suffer. Colorado’s world-famous wildflower bloom—pollinated by bumblebees, many of which are in steep decline as well—may also be at risk if the problem extends to the high country.