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Bees important to Arizona economy, environment

PHOENIX — The bee population has been declining across the U.S. for years and the Arizona Department of Agriculture is concerned about the effect that could have on Arizona.

The department said bees play a critical role in the pollination of plants, and for Arizona’s agriculture, that is no different.

“We need bees to grow food, bees are an essential element of the environment,” said Mark Killian, director of the Arizona Department of Agriculture.

Killian said Arizona is one of the country’s largest producers of fresh fruit and vegetables and the decline in bees could threaten the state’s economy and food supply.

“Bees are essential for economical production, they’re essential for increasing the production of our plants,” he said.

There are varying theories behind the decline in the bee population. Killian said it is believed diseases, environmental changes and homeowners scaling back on plants that attract bees could all be part of the problem.

Jay Harper, president of the Arizona Nursery Association said having bees in people’s yards can be a good thing, however.

Alongside the Department of Agriculture, Harper said they are encouraging people to grow plants that attract bees, such as citrus and other fragrant plants.

Harper said bees can help pollinate and grow small gardens. He added that typically, common honey bees do not pose much of a threat to humans.

“People just need to be aware that foraging bees in the garden, bees that are out just gather nectar and taking it back to the hive are not the bees that attack people,” Harper said.

He said it is the Africanized bees that are much more aggressive, so if homeowners come across a hive, they should call the Department of Agriculture.

If homeowners are still worried about having bees around, Harper recommends keeping plants and trees that attract bees away from doors and walkways to avoid contact.