The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 20, 2013

Bees, bats and bass

Daily Item

---- — Dr. Bill Yingling is asking the right questions, the problem is no one wants to know the answer.

Not long ago I was asked to comment on any major changes I have witnessed that have occurred while living along the Susquehanna River in my 66 years. Upon reflecting on many changes I have seen, I decided to focus on what I call the demise of the 3-B's: Bees, bats and bass.

I must admit I'm not a scientist and much of what I have to say is based on information published by scientific researchers, but the opinions drawn from their information are entirely my own.

Since the mid- to late-1990s it has been well known that honey bees have been dying off in record numbers. The collapse of honey bee colonies in the Northeast is as high as 90 percent in some regions. Colony Collapse Disorder has been identified worldwide but as of yet the cause of this disorder has not been identified. Adult bees mysteriously disappear from the colony resulting in the total collapse of the hive. Once the river valley hummed with millions of bees visiting the many species of flowers and fauna found in our lush river valley. Today only a handful of bees are left as well as only a handful of native flowers.

Since the early to mid-2000s the northeastern U.S. has witnessed a 90 percent collapse in the entire population of bats. Called White-nose Syndrome because of a white fungus found around the nose of some dead bats, the cause for this deadly syndrome is still unknown. My home along the river once was the summer residence for a colony of more than 200 bats, counted as they would leave at dusk to hunt insects on the river at night. This summer there was one lone bat. Years ago, being on the river at dusk I would have witnessed thousands of bats flying low on the water consuming hundreds of thousands of insects hatching on and above the water.

Today those numbers are measured in the dozens not thousands.

It has been well-documented that beginning in 2005, the smallmouth bass population on the main stem of the Susquehanna River has been on a steady decline with current bass populations depleted. By 2005, the population of rock bass in the river had already declined by 90 percent (sound familiar). These bass suffer from three distinct problems: fatal skin lesions on young of the year bass, inter-sexing of male bass and Black Spot Syndrome.

We have established names for each of the conditions affecting the bass, bees and bats, but the cause for all of this mass devastation remains unknown. The research in all three cases suspects chemical compounds in the environment introduced through pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, pharmaceutical waste or other industrial waste compounds that all contribute to the breakdown of the immune systems of these and other mammals, fish and insects. Why don't we find the cause and fix it, lack of priority, lack of funding and lack of political will. If this paper were titled, Cats, Cattle and Children, and we suffered 90 percent population declines of each we would know the cause before this year was over.

For years the political battle in Harrisburg has been over declaring the Susquehanna River as impaired -- shouldn't our goal be to demand the science to declare our river safe. Isn't it odd that state and federal agencies do not have an official designation of safe? Our environment is assumed safe until designated otherwise. Designations like troubled, threatened or impaired require detailed scientific studies, but safe can be based on an assumption.

The public has been programmed to default to safe when other scientific evidence is lacking. There are and never have been any scientific studies that support DEP's claim of a safe river. Don't we deserve better science then that?

Jim Charles,