Winter hits Sask. bees much harder than usual

The Saskatchewan Beekeepers Development Commission says it could take years for the population to recover.

Beekeeper says it could take years to get population up again

It is estimated that 35 to 40 per cent of bees perished in Sask. over the winter. (University of Guelph Honey Bee Research Centre/Facebook)

Saskatchewan beekeepers are finding many more of their bees than usual have died over the winter.

This winter, it is estimated that 35 to 40 per cent of bees perished, due in part to the cold snap in the last weeks of March through the beginning of April. A usual winter will see 10 to 25 per cent of bees die, according to Simon Lalonde, president of the Saskatchewan Beekeepers Development Commission (SBDC).

"It's an exceptional number [and] beekeepers have to try and take what's left and rebuild," Lalonde said.

The summer ahead

Lalonde said that commercial honey bees will still be accessible to canola farmers.

"Farmers may or may not see an impact there, they may chalk it up to less rain or a hot stretch when they wanted some cooler weather for the crop," he said.

"But bees definitely have an impact on canola production in the province."

Lalonde said that beekeepers are going through their dead hives right now to try to determine if there are steps they can take to better protect them next year.

Rebuilding the hives

Lalonde said the way forward is to break up the existing hives into smaller ones, called "nucs."

This would allow these smaller colonies to grow into bigger ones to be used for honey next year. It would also mean this year's honey yield will be smaller than usual.

Smaller yields would mean exports of honey going down, which would hit commercial beekeepers the hardest.

"I think most people will probably really be trying to cover expenses this year," he said. "It's going to be a lean year for sure, but that's agriculture."

Lalonde estimated it'll be one to three years before the bee population fully recovers.

Bee watch

Weather isn't the only factor affecting bee populations. Some bee habitats have been destroyed and there are less species of flowers for them to gather pollen from.

Bears have also been known to raid hives for honey.

A recent amendment to the Wildlife Regulations allows beekeepers to shoot bears without a license if the bears are within one kilometre of the hives. Beekeepers must have permission from the landowner to do so.

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition