Village Matters: Colony Collapse?

By Ann Christoph.

By Ann Christoph.

Beekeeper Charlotte Bell “Shared the Buzz on Bees” at the South Laguna Community Garden Park on Saturday. As our local bees buzzed happily on the intense yellow pollen amid the white crepe paper-like flowers of the Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri), we learned of the importance of bees to our economy and well-being.  Bell explained that “colony collapse disorder,” the mysterious disappearance of masses of bees, may be related to interference with the bees’ navigation system. Something disorients the bees to the point that they cannot find their way home. Without the worker bees returning with pollen (their protein) and nectar (their carbohydrate), the hive deteriorates and eventually ceases to function. The bees disappear. The number of hives in the United States now is just slightly more than half what it was in 1980.

This is alarming for our food supply because our fruits and vegetables are largely pollinated by bees.  n entire district in China, now bereft of bees, must pollinate their pear trees by hand with a feather tool. It’s also alarming because the cause of colony collapse disorder is unknown. Is this just an early indicator of even more serious breakdowns in our natural systems?

Laguna Beach has its own “colony collapse” under way in the form of mysterious deaths of Pittosporum undulatum, commonly known as Victorian box tree.  This tree has naturalized itself in many of our canyons and ravines.  In winter wafts of its orange blossom-like scent permeate the air in evening throughout our city. Its attractive shiny, dark green-leaves have made this plant a favorite for screening hedges.

We’ve been losing a few trees here and there for several years, not enough for most people to notice.  Now I’m getting frequent calls from alarmed residents wanting to know what to do the save their beloved trees or to report on more deaths. UC experts and arborists have no recommendation, since they don’t understand the cause. There is speculation that deaths may be climate related, since Pittosporum undulatum trees to the north in Santa Barbara are still doing fine. Has the slight increase in temperature made this much difference? Could it have made the environment just warm enough for some soil pathogen to proliferate and cause this epidemic?

Now in an even larger sense we are working to prevent colony collapse — art colony collapse — when people say, “Laguna’s just anther crowded beach town.”  Instead of, “Laguna’s special. They’ve kept their integrity.” What decisions are the right ones to maintain our vaunted charm and character? To keep Laguna, Laguna, or at least close to what it was when we came here.

Should we build garages for more cars to park or sponsor more transit solutions? Promote our town more or less? Do we need more events, activities, festivals, or fewer? Plant more trees, or remove more? More energy-efficient cutting-edge architecture?  More historic preservation? Complete streets or incomplete streets?

Every one of these decisions and changes, all of them cumulatively, have the potential to “put us over the edge” into collapse mode or to make Laguna even better.  Watching our favorite reality show, the city council meetings, we can’t say we don’t think about it.  Even so, let’s think some more and be sure we’re right on these choices.

We always want to be able to find our way home.


Landscape architect Ann Chrisotoph is a former mayor.

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