Have bee, will travel

 

For our cover stories, we generally try to look where other journalists do not, so we can tell important and interesting stories that have been ignored, underreported, misreported, hidden or hidden in plain sight. Hannah Nordhaus’ “The Silence of the Bees,” on the other hand, might seem to have been ripped from the headlines. Of late, newspapers and Web sites across the land have been (ahem) abuzz with news of massive death in the mobile bee colonies that are essential to pollinating America’s crops.

Beekeepers in 24 states have reported the mysterious die-offs, which appear to have begun last fall and were, therefore, originally called “Fall Dwindle Disease.” This year, apian investigators changed the name to “Colony Collapse Disorder” because the reason or reasons for the bee deaths remain so mysterious they cannot even be tagged specifically to a disease or, for that matter, a season.

If the great bee death has been noted in a superficial news sense, it has not, until now, been set in its true context. In the best tradition of narrative journalism, Ms. Nordhaus has done exhaustive research — spending months in the field, from California’s Central Valley to Gackle, N.D. — and come back with the finely observed story of a dedicated migratory beekeeper, the bees he loves, and the constellation of long-running plagues, deadly parasites, rapacious people and dicey finances that make 21st century beekeeping such a perilous art. Read Ms. Nordhaus’ lyrical tale, and you’ll know how modern American agriculture has risen on the wings of bees, and why, by its very nature, modern agriculture asks far too much of the embattled bees and beekeepers who have — at least so far — kept it aloft.

In conjunction with “The Silence of the Bees,” we’re running another example of fine apian prose this issue, Brendan Borrell’s profile of Stephen Buchmann, a pollination ecologist from Tucson who knows amazing things of all sorts about bees and other pollen spreaders, all around the world.

But bees are just the start of an issue that spans the West and its interests. From Utah, Jen Jackson writes on Lynell Schalk, a retired special agent for the Bureau of Land Management who’s now fighting the agency she worked for, claiming it has refused to stop off-road vehicles from destroying sensitive archaeological sites. From California, Matt Palmquist explores Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s surprising decision to gut the budget for a high-speed rail line, in the planning stages for more than a decade, that would connect San Diego, Sacramento and the Bay Area. And Jonathan Thompson and Betsy Marston have scoured the rest of the West, coming up with all the news, light and serious, that you’ve come to expect from us every fortnight.

Let me know if you think we’ve missed something. If you like what you’re reading, please do feel free to tell a few friends. At High Country News, we’re never averse to a little (ahem) positive buzz.

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