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Beekeepers Hope For Better Season

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Beekeepers are hoping for a better season after wild fires and drought hurt last summer's production.

Despite the conditions, members of the Beekeepers of the Bitterroot the hobby is on the rise in the Valley.

Friday, new and veteran hobby beekeepers visited Tracie Norman's home to pick up boxes containing thousands upon thousands of honey bees.

Norman is a member of Beekeepers of the Bitterroot, an organization that brings together hobbyists across the Valley to work together and share tips of the trade.

Friday, they sold packages of bees to keepers around the valley to build new hobby hives, or help existing hives grow.

"We have a lot of interest in new beekeepers. People that haven't kept bees before, so we're hoping that we can set those people up for success and give them the tools and information they need to be successful," Norman said.

Norman and her husband are avid home gardeners and picked up the hobby five years ago.

"There's a lot of work to it it's not something that's easy you have to be educated, you have to educate yourself," Norman said.

But as the hobby grows in the Bitterroot, bee populations worldwide are in decline.

A recent USDA report shows a large decline in the number of honey bee colonies across the nation.

University of Montana Biology Professor Colin Henderson, said commercial beekeepers in Montana have recorded 50 to 70 percent losses this year.

"In the last couple of years, there have been relatively significant loses of honey bees across the United States and bee keepers in Montana haven't been immune."

Their research shows last year's drought and a cold spring could be the causes for bee losses.

And commercial bee keepers across the state could feel the blow.

"If you look at pollination, plus honey, plus sales of bees, honeybees in Montana are actually the third largest agricultural enterprise in the state of Montana, in terms of total economic benefit, so behind cattle and sheep we have honeybees, which surprises a lot of people," Henderson said.

Norman said she hasn't seen a devastating drop in her family's production, but beekeepers around the Valley are hoping for rain to keep fires and draught at bay, and help bee populations regain strength.

"You have to have pollination for so many different crops of food. I think people are becoming more and more aware of that, but I think a lot of people take that for granted."

National and local bee researchers say parasites, poor nutrition and pesticides also lead to colony declines.

They say they'll continue to experiment with new ways to increase honey bee health across the nation.

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