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Bee Symposium in Medford

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MEDFORD, Ore. — Beekeepers from all over the country are gathering in the Rogue Valley for a beekeeping summit, and local experts say it couldn’t come at a better time. For many, it begins as a hobby – that’s how Mark Sievert got into beekeeping about a year ago. Then, something happened.

“I believe the bees swarmed on me, which means they just flew the coop basically,” recalled Sievert.

Attendees at Saturday symposium say dying bees are nothing new. For hobbyists like Mark, losing a colony hurts. When it happens on a commercial scale, it can hurt a lot.

“It’s not the honeybee that’s endanger of extinction. The danger is the economic viability of some of the traditional beekeeping operations,” explained beekeeping expert Randy Oliver.

In other words, it isn’t about saving the bees, but saving the beekeepers. One of the biggest challenges, according to experts here, is commercial farming. Take away weeds and pasture and replace it with corn or soybean, and that means no more forage for the bees.

“That eliminates a huge amount of habitat for those species – birds, pollinators, bees – that depended upon those weedy areas, those pasture areas,” explained Oliver.

A symposium won’t fix that, nor will it fix parasites and bee predators or pesticides, but Oliver says he can help local beekeepers work around that.

“Successful beekeepers have learned how to adapt,” said Oliver, “and that’s largely dependent on the husbandry the beekeepers do to the bees, how well they take care of the bees.”

Sievert says his livelihood may not be at stake, but if he can learn something that will help him be more successful next time, he’ll give it another shot.

“I would love to be successful at beekeeping and take it on again,” said Sievert.

Despite what many beekeepers describe as a major bee decline, they say the hobby is quickly gaining popularity. The local Southern Oregon Beekeepers Association says meeting attendance has multiplied four or five times in the past few years.