Restoring Ohio honey bees the target of foundation project

The Levin Family Foundation, until now largely focused on helping low-income people with health care, is launching a new collaboration to assist in restoring healthier honey bee populations to Ohio.

A number of organizations have interest in the start-up including the National Park Service, Wright State University, Central State University, Antioch College, Miami University, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The effort is being called the “Propolis Project” and the foundation is starting a limited liability corporation and governing board to administer it.

The Heartland Honey Bee Breeders Cooperative, a new organization dedicated to breeding a pest-resistant honey bee that has unique genetic traits adapted to northern climates, is seeking funding.

Dwight Wells, the Miami County beekeeper who helped form the cooperative that works with Purdue University entomologists, said 125 hives have been established in Belle Center, in Logan County, to produce breeder queen bees. They’re in a largely Amish area that isn’t a user of harmful farm pesticides, said Wells, who is also President of the West Central Ohio Beekeepers Association and a board member of the Ohio State Beekeepers Association.

The objective is to breed a bee that attacks a primary, virus-spreading pest, the varroa mite, and is tailored to ride out Ohio’s extreme temperature and weather swings. Most bees are now brought to Ohio from Georgia, Wells said, and that’s created problems with queen quality and the introduction of pests that travel with the bees like hive beetles.

It’s important to have a bee breed produced in the state that is locally-adapted to a particular area, Wells said. The project, underway since 2013, will take years to produce results, he added, but it’s worth it.

“I’m so excited about this,” Wells said.

At this stage, the foundation has invited organizations to be partners and seek grants to advance Ohio honey bee health. Plans could include installing a bee yard at Huffman Prairie at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said Darryn Warner, base Natural Resources Program Manager.

“We can provide a small parcel of land for them to do their field work,” he said.

Antioch College has an organic farm with bee hives that it uses to produce food for students, said Megan Rehberg, Foundation Relations Officer with the college. She’d welcome more hives at the farm. “It fits with our sustainability focus very well,” she said.

The exact amount to be spent by the foundation annually has not been determined, said Karen Levin, the foundation’s executive director. The foundation annually distributes about $1 million and has more than $20 million in assets.

It’s hoped that foundation and other grants from outside the community could also be tapped as the partner organizations finalize plans, Levin said.

Honey bee populations have been under siege in recent decades by a host of harmful factors, including new, powerful pesticides, bee pests and lack of balanced nutrition because of single-crop farming. Wells said.

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