The Wyoming State Beekeepers Assoc. and the North Platte River

Last week I blogged about my trip to the University of Maryland to visit our diagnostic lab. This week I am writing about traveling to Wyoming for business and pleasure…

On December 7th I was given the opportunity to speak in front of the Wyoming State Beekeepers Association at their Annual Conference. Don Bryant was in charge of organizing the event held in Casper, Wyoming. Don runs between 5,000-7,000 colonies of bees for honey production and pollination with the help of his two sons Brandon and Brady. Don’s invitation to speak to the association was a chance for me to share the goals of our program with a new group of beekeepers who were eager to hear what we have done and hope to do with the bee breeders in Northern California. It also gave me a chance to do some fly-fishing on a stretch of blue ribbon trout water known as the Grey Reef section of the North Platte River…

I gave three presentations that Friday in Casper. The first of which was on some work I had done while at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and Penn State University from 2007-2011. During that time I was asked to autopsy bee’s that had been sampled out of commercial honey bee colonies chosen for numerous studies, experiments and disease and pest surveys. At the time scientists were (and still are) looking for causes of huge colony losses reported by beekeepers nationwide. The idea behind autopsying bees collected from both sick and healthy honey bee colonies was that perhaps we could find a symptom(s) that would lead to a single causative agent of colony losses (especially one associated with Colony Collapse Disorder). To date, no single causative agent has been linked to CCD. Autopsy work continues under the direction of Dennis vanEngelsdorp at the University of Maryland.

The second talk I gave was geared toward the studies, experiments and disease and pest surveys I took part in during my research stint in Pennsylvania. Those four years were an education made possible by the reputation our lab was able to build for conducting field and lab work. If the beekeeping industry is the bastard child of agriculture than our lab was the equivalent to the research community. We weren’t at the bench or under the hood doing the ‘sexy’ bee work that was taking place in genetic and molecular labs across the country; we were the team collecting the samples to be sent to those labs. We served as a hub where samples could be collected, imported, catalogued and processed then exported and processed further for things our lab didn’t have the means to accomplish like viral and pesticide analysis. Much of this work is what led us here to California and the formation of the Bee Informed Partnership.

So, why California? Beekeepers in California produce hundreds of thousands of honey bees that get sold to every corner of the nation reserving them a highly influential and powerful place in the industry. Northern California is a hot bed of talented, progressive and successful honey bee breeders and producers. If you were to create a program that’s biggest goal was to increase colony survivorship nation-wide then why not start with commercial queen breeders, after all they possess the power to have the greatest impact on honey bee stocks. Their best management practices have propelled them to the top of the beekeeping industry and capturing what they know about keeping bees has the potential to be extremely valuable to the industry.

We started with testing potential breeders for hygienic behavior, pests and pathogens then began longitudinally monitoring colonies over time for diseases and pests. What we hope to do is use management surveys to document beekeeping practices then pair them with the disease and pest data we are collecting. Currently, a database is being developed to organize that information so that it can be utilized by beekeepers looking to adopt best management practices from other beekeepers who share their same geography, purpose and/or management philosophies. Beekeepers are catching on to the things we are doing and the services our program can provide. There has been a lot of positive feedback. We are in our second year of a five year government funded project (National Institute of Food and Agriculture) and are working on developing economic models that will make our program sustainable once funding dries-up. In the meantime I will do my part to keep things moving forward. That means maintaining good rapport with the beekeepers participating in our program, evolving with the industry and scientific community and continuing to report fast and accurate results to our beekeepers. It’s not all work and no play for me though…

I love taking advantages of opportunities and during my stay in Casper I was able to do just that…Saturday morning after the conference I rented a car and headed 30 miles out of town on Highway 220 toward the Alcova Reservoir below the Grey Reef Dam to fish the famous Grey Reef stretch of the North Platte River. This stretch boasts active trout all year round thanks to the warm water release from the dam and special regulations limiting anglers to harvesting only one trout that must be over 20 inches and caught using artificial flies/lures with a single hook. When I arrived at the base of the dam and got out of the car I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to fish. It was cold and very windy; two conditions that are not conducive to fly fishing. I geared up anyway and was pleasantly surprised once I got down to the water.

The banks were high where I entered the stream giving me some relief from the strong winds howling over the plains. I really didn’t expect to catch much but was still happy to be out on the stream. I tied on my go to fly and favorite searching pattern the green wooly bugger. Five or six casts and a couple of well placed strips of the line landed me my first fish; a healthy 15” Rainbow Trout. I was ecstatic! I couldn’t believe it! The trout were hungry and I had the place to myself! I worked my way down stream catching two more trout within the next hour, each just a little bigger than the last. I didn’t hook any monsters but trout in the 15-18” range are a ton of fun to fight. Just as I landed my third trout I noticed that the thick, dark clouds that I had seen off in the distance earlier that morning were now on top of me.

Shortly after, it began to snow and there was a noticeable drop in the temperature. It was enough to take the fish off of my wooly bugger and I made the decision to switch flies. In the five minutes it took to change tackle my finger tips had become frozen in pain. I put my gloves back on but they had frozen as well and the rest of the day was a struggle to stay warm. It was hard to get more than two or three casts in without having to run my hand up the length of the rod to free the eyelets from ice. Once the line freezes inside the eyelets it becomes impossible to cast and if you’re not conscience of it you will end up with knots in your line. Untangling knots in below freezing temperatures is not fun even for the most seasoned angler. By 4 o’clock in the afternoon the Wyoming weather had gotten the best of me and I was anxious to crawl into the car and thaw out. I ended up landing three fish, not bad for a cold blustery December day on a Wyoming trout stream. I hope to get back to Wyoming next year and would love a chance to share its wildness in the company of friends and family.