DENVER — A new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows a 72% decline in western bumble bees in Colorado’s Southern Rocky Mountains since 1998. The report found that climate change, drought, and increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides have put bumble bees and other pollinators at risk.

This comes as Colorado lawmakers consider a bill to reduce the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. A similar bill was introduced last year but failed.

“Our pollinators are in danger because there’s so many things working against them,” said beekeeper Joe Komperda, who educates and advocates for better pollinator protection in the Denver metro area. “In the coal mines, they used to take a canary down with them, and if the canary died, the coal miners knew to get out of there because the air was bad. It was poison, or whatever, and they needed to get out. And today, I kind of look at the bees and other pollinators as our canary, to tell us how good we’re doing with the environment.”

Komperda and his wife have been keeping bees for 10 years, and now have up to 40 hives each year throughout the Parker and Centennial area. As time has passed, Komperda’s hobby has grown into a passion for advocacy and education.

While the bees they keep are honey bees, which have fared better than other species in Colorado — in part thanks to the close eye of the growing number of beekeepers across the state — he hopes the lessons he can share through his hives will raise awareness for all of the state’s pollinators.

“Hopefully people will do things to help the bees and the other pollinators,” Komperda said. “Planting flowers for all the pollinators, planting so that your garden blooms all summer long. Things like that are the things that help the pollinators, the bees, everyone. And not only that, it looks good in the neighborhood, too.”

The report showed that the 72% decline in western bumble bee populations could be just the beginning, with projections showing between 51% and 97% further decline by the 2050s. The impacts of that could be devastating for our ecosystem, food supply and society.

“Pollinators, in general, are really important for all the food we eat. Here in the United States, it’s about a $15 billion industry making sure that the bees are around to help pollinate the food,” Komperda said. “When they prosper, we prosper.”

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