Photo of bumblebee by Cole Keister. Source: www.beyondtoxics.org
Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 10, 2015. Last week, Governor Kate Brown of Oregon announced that this upcoming Saturday, August 15, 2015, will be Oregon Native Bees Conservation Awareness Day, following requests from concerned residents and Beyond Toxics, an Oregon based environmental organization. The awareness day will encourage education and individual action to reverse the decline of native bee populations. According to the proclamation signed by Governor Brown, “Oregon’s native bees are essential pollinators in ecosystems that support the reproduction of flowering trees and plants, including the fruits and seeds that are a major part of the diet of approximately 25% of all birds and mammals.” Native, wild bees across the nation (and the world) have suffered severe losses due to the toxic effects of pesticide overuse, habitat loss due to conventional farming practices, diseases, and other impacts.
The request for recognition of the bees’ plight follows several recent mass bee die-offs in the state. Earlier this month, the Oregon Department of Agriculture released results of investigations into recent bee deaths near a Portland park, as well as two other nearby bee die-offs. Investigators found lethal levels of the bee-toxic insecticide imidacloprid, with uses banned in Oregon, in the systems of the dead bees. Imidacloprid is part of a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, which affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and eventual death. These pesticides have consistently been implicated as a key factor in pollinator declines, not only linked to acute exposure and immediate bee deaths, but also sublethal exposure that adversely affects bee reproduction, navigation, and foraging.
In June 2015, a major international study on bee pollination involving 58 researchers calculated the value of wild bee pollination to the global food system at $3,000 per hectare of insect-pollinated agricultural land, a number in the billions globally. The study advances our understanding of wild bees’ crucial role in the global food system. About two-thirds of the world’s most important crops benefit from bee pollination, including coffee, cacao and many fruits and vegetables. Wild pollination is increasingly important, as the instability of honey bee colonies continues to grow. According to the study, wild bees’ agricultural value is now similar to that of honey bees, which are not considered wild due to their intense management.
EPA, through the President’s National Pollinator Health Strategy, has acknowledged that pesticides are a problem. But EPA’s recent proposal to create “physical and temporal space” between bees and toxic pesticides overlooks the persistent and systemic nature of the pesticides highly toxic to bees. These pesticides remain in pollen and nectar, soil and water for days, weeks and even years, continuously exposing bees long after the initial application. The proposal showcases the inadequacies of pesticide testing, registration and regulatory standards issued by EPA. Its methods fall short by failing to address the multiple routes of pesticide exposure over time, focusing only on acute contamination rather than the persistent effects of systemic pesticides. This is a continual struggle, as EPA employs a risk-assessment approach for approving or restricting pesticides that involves researching for more data while attempting to mitigate any risks that occur instead of suspending the chemicals, while gathering more data, or not approving them in the first place. While protection for bees continues to fall short at the federal level, local communities are stepping up to create meaningful, positive change.
Communities around the country have begun taking steps to protect bees from the harmful effects of neonicotinoids, as well as other toxic pesticides. In 2014, Eugene, Oregon became the first community in the nation to specifically ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides from city property. Eugene had previously set up a pesticide-free parks program and required all departments to adopt integrated pest management (IPM) standards. Other communities passed similar bans, such as Skagway (Alaska), Shorewood, Minnesota and, in Washington State, Thurston County, Seattle, and Spokane. In May 2015, the city of Boulder, Colorado became the most recent locality to restrict the use of neonicotinoids on city property. Even school campuses have joined in, with the University of Vermont Law School becoming the first BEE Protective campus after announcing that it was going neonicotinoid pesticide-free. At Emory University, the Office of Sustainability Initiatives not only banned neonicotinoids on campus, but also went a step further by planting pollinator habitats and conducting campus outreach and education on the importance of pollinators. These restrictions on neonicotinoids are especially important because they build pressure at the federal level, and demonstrate to other communities and cities across the country that there are ways to create positive environmental change with their own local actions.
You also can work to get bee-toxic neonicotinoids out of your community. It’s important to find support –friends, neighbors, and other people who share your concerns about environmental health. It’s also essential to reach out to your local politicians and government; with enough public support, your own state Governor could be asked to declare a Bee Awareness Day to promote safer, non-toxic practices and to encourage more meaningful action. Beyond Pesticides has resources and factsheets available to help you organize in your community. You can also call (202-543-5450) or email ([email protected]) for one-on-one consultation about the strategies you can take to have an impact.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.