NEWS | Oct. 20, 2020

Environmental program generates a lot of buzz at OIB installation

By Ms. Jacqueline Boucher

Inhabitants of Tobyhanna Army Depot’s apiary will be fighting for survival during their first winter in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Beekeepers here are working to ensure life in the hive thrives in the face of freezing temperatures.

Earlier this year, depot officials saw the wisdom in the strategic vision of two environmental experts eager to participate in programs that would sustain the Department of Defense (DOD) mission and ecological integrity of DOD lands; implement pollinator conservation practices to enhance habitat; and broaden awareness among the workforce.

Pollinators in the United States include most bees and some bats, birds, butterflies, moths, flies beetles and other insects. Conservation of pollinators supports the mission by helping to maintain diverse healthy ecosystems that provide a variety of habitats for realistic testing and training exercises, according to the federal conservation reference guide.

Members of the pollinator task force here have set three goals. Lose no more than 15 percent of bees to overwintering, increase native plant landscapes and increase the population of Monarch butterflies.

European honey bees were moved into their new home at the south end of the closed landfill in spring. In addition, Environmental Protection Specialists Sean Maynard and Matt Argust planted pollinator gardens and milkweed. The pair maintain two beehives capable of housing over 30,000 bees each. One hive is capable of pollinating millions of flowers. Butterfly caterpillars feed on milkweed.

“Sean and Matt chose the ideal spot for the apiary, because the land was considered unusable because of its proximity to the landfill,” said Paula Mesaris, branch chief. “I am proud to be working with a team of creative individuals that care about the environment and always look for new ways to make improvements, both big and small.”

The federal strategy also includes recommendations for developing public-private partnerships to build on.

“People have already started asking questions about the apiary,” Argust said. “What we’re doing here will help the state parks, game lands, and local farmers. The goal is to keep the landscape true to the region and healthy.”

Local fish and wildlife professionals provided native wildflower seeds for Maynard and Argust to set up test beds for pollinators in a remote location of the depot.

The honey bees will boost the pollination of native landscaping on and off the installation, according to Argust. The environmentalist noted that native species help maintain a balance within the eco system of the installation. Local farmers will also benefit from pollination because it can increase their yields, he said.

Furthermore, native plant communities resist erosion, are resilient to fire, and provide realistic and safe training and testing environments for Soldiers and equipment, Maynard added.

“To meet both its readiness and stewardship obligations, Tobyhanna lands present opportunities to restore habitats for pollinators and contribute to plant diversity and food security,” Maynard said.

Future plans include splitting the hive to grow the apiary so Tobyhanna can participate in different programs. The team talked about participating in the National Agricultural Statistic Service next year. The statistic service surveys the health of bee colonies on a national level and provides the market with detailed information about U.S. agriculture. The DOD big picture view is focused on food security.

For instance, Maynard explained, if there is some kind of sensitivity to pesticides or catastrophic biological event affecting the food supply, one of the direct ways you would see it is in the bee population.

“Matt and I have been taking advantage of several opportunities to hone our beekeeping skills,” said Maynard. “There are several beekeepers on the depot who have a wealth of information to share. Plus, there are a number of books to read on the subject, as well as training courses in the public sector.”

Immediate concerns are for the survival of the hive. Overwintering is something bees do naturally, however, the European honey bee, which is what the depot has, is not native to the Americas. In the winter the main purpose of the bees is to keep the hive warm. They cluster in a big ball and flap their wings to create heat -- 95 degrees is normal for the cluster. Each hive will consume about 80 pounds of honey during the cold-weather months.

Tobyhanna beekeepers are taking the necessary steps to help the bees maintain their desired cluster temperature throughout the winter in the hope the hive thrives next year.