They’re important for agriculture, but they’re not so good for the environment
“Beekeeping is for people; it's not a conservation practice,” says Sheila Colla, an assistant professor and conservation biologist at Toronto’s York University, Canada. “People mistakenly think keeping honey bees, or helping honey bees, is somehow helping the native bees, which are at risk of extinction."
Colla recently published an analysis of nearly a thousand comments submitted by citizens in response to Ontario’s draft Pollinator Health Action Plan—a proposal that involved a plan for stricter neonicotinoid pesticide regulations. Despite intense public interest in bees and pollination and strong support of tighter pesticide regulations, Colla and her colleagues found that citizens had a surprisingly poor understanding of the diversity of pollinators and their roles in pollination.
“The focus on neonics [a kind of pesticide] and honey bees has taken a ton of resources away from conserving wild pollinators from their most important threats,” Colla says. She is justifiably frustrated at the misappropriated attention on saving honey bees when, from a conservationist’s point of view, native bees are the ones in more dire need of support.
And while honey bee–centric businesses often support initiatives that benefit native bees, such as developing bee-friendly habitat, the financial contributions pale in comparison to what could be achieved if funds were applied to these initiatives directly. “Beekeeping companies and various non-science-based initiatives have financially benefitted from the decline of native pollinators,” Colla explains. “These resources thus were not allocated to the actual issue people are concerned about.”