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Northern apiculture symposium comes to Yellowknife

Meaghan Richens/NNSL photo Paul van Westendorp, provincial apiculturist for British Columbia, gave an introduction to beekeeping talk at the Northern Bee Health Symposium this weekend. February 23, 2019.

The city's first Northern Bee Health Symposium was held at Chateau Nova last weekend.

The idea for the event was a collaborative effort between various GNWT departments – Industry, Tourism and Investment; Environment and Natural Resources; Health and Social Services – and Ecology North.

The groups worked to put on the symposium in the broader sense of the Northwest Territories agriculture strategy, which is related to food security and economic development in the North.

But they wanted to bring beekeeping to Yellowknife in a way that would be aware of native species and pollinators in the environment, said Heather Fenton, wildlife veterinarian and chief veterinary officer of the NWT.

From left: Rosalie Abbey from Ecology North, Jessie Olsen, a local bee enthusiast and vet tech and Heather Fenton, wildlife veterinarian and chief veterinary officer of the NWT at the Northern Bee Health Symposium on Saturday. Meaghan Richens/NNSL photo

“We wanted to have a lot of information on the diversity we have here and why it’s important to conserve it and maybe what you can do as a potential producer in the Northwest Territories," said Fenton.

“Because (beekeeping) is a small industry right now with the potential to grow, we want to do it in a responsible manner,” she said.

The two-day symposium brought in a variety of speakers including apiculture experts from British Columbia and Alberta, an entomologist from Saskatchewan, local beekeepers and Gwich'in elder Alestine Andre who spoke about traditional names and stories about bees.

"There are better methods – how to get bees, where to import bees – that are better," said Fenton. "And some other factors like making sure that there are enough feed flowers for the bees in the area if you’re going to start beekeeping. Basically, (the symposium) is a way of bringing people together from multiple different groups.”

Paul van Westendorp, provincial apiculturist for British Columbia, gave an introduction to beekeeping talk at the Northern Bee Health Symposium this weekend. Meaghan Richens/NNSL photo

Paul van Westendorp, provincial apiculturalist for British Columbia gave an Introduction to Beekeeping talk on Saturday. And he says Northern beekeepers need to be in tune with their environment.

"You cannot just be a beekeeper, you also have to be a gardener or botanist," said van Westendorp.

In southern provinces like Alberta, there are fields upon fields of flowers for bees to draw pollen from. In the North, however, there are limitations imposed by climate and geography, meaning prospective beekeepers need to be realistic.

"You cannot expect performance like in Alberta," he said.

One attendee asked whether arsenic in the environment surrounding Yellowknife would affect bees or honey produced here.

"Certain agents get released into the environment, some of which may be a threat," said van Westendorp. "But it would depend on the level of the agent in the environment. In this case, the quantities of arsenic in honey would likely be minuscule, measured in parts per million or parts per billion."

At the end of the symposium, the GNWT will produce a few different documents on the topic of beekeeping in the North.

"So a report on what was talked about during the symposium and some interest and feedback and questions that we get from the public," said Fenton.

"And then the idea is to produce best management practices or guidelines for the producers to help people that might be interested in getting into bees.”

There are a lot of unique issues facing potential beekeepers in the territory, so the idea is to create resources to help them troubleshoot ahead of time, she said.

"The weather is the one most obvious one, just the long winter months and lack of sunlight for a long time," said Fenton.

"But there’s other factors too – access to flowers and even access to equipment and access to bees," she said. "And we don’t have roads going everywhere int he Northwest Territories so it can be more challenging to do a lot of different agricultural practices."

But interestingly, some things are better in the Northwest Territories, said Fenton.

"For example, in more humid climates, like in British Columbia, they have a number of different issues that are related to humidity," she said. "Each environment is totally different, so the challenges are unique to the NWT. And that’s why we invited some people that are beekeeping in the North to kind of share their experiences as well."