A distinctive “swish-swish-pop-gurgle-pop!” rises from the sagebrush and a normally cautious bird transforms itself in a flash of fanned tail feathers, puffed chest, fluttering wings and flirty dance moves. It’s Gunnison sage-grouse mating season.
Gene Brandi raises thousands of honeybees in California’s Central Valley, the agricultural engine for much of the nation’s produce. Each February and March, his bees are among the 1.7 million rented colonies that swarm over the valley’s 850,000 acres of almond trees. They descend on the riot of pink blossoms, collecting pollen to provision their nests. In the process, they cross-pollinate the trees, enabling these farmers to grow 80 percent of the world’s almonds.
As autumn wanes, some hives naturally go silent, empty, dying back in the chilling air and fading light. When Brandi launched his business in the 1970s, he rarely lost even 5 percent of his bees over the winter. But that changed a decade ago when colony collapse disorder arrived on the scene. One year, he lost almost half. Now he’s averaging 30 percent.
It’s not just a California problem. Across the country and the world, many pollinators are in decline or at risk of extinction. It’s a serious issue because forests, prairies, meadows, wetlands, seashores and croplands all depend on a diverse and healthy pollinator community to thrive. Globally, nearly 85 percent of all flowering plants require help from animals to produce seeds and fruit. Without them, neither humans nor wildlife would have as much to eat and as a result the planet’s biodiversity would plummet.