(Beyond Pesticides, November 12, 2014) The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) has issued two civil penalties totaling $16,000 in connection with a pesticide application of imidacloprid, a chemical in the neonicotinoid class of insecticides connected to widespread bee decline, this summer that resulted in the death of nearly 1,000 bees at a Eugene apartment complex. Although ODA is taking actions to address pollinator protection, the frequent and continued occurrence of pesticide-related bee deaths indicates that current laws still fall woefully short of preventing these incidences.
ODAâ€™s Pesticide Program conducted an investigation that determined that Glass Tree Care and Spray Service, Inc. and its pesticide applicator violated Oregonâ€™s pesticide control law through gross negligence. ODA is authorized to issue a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for violations that are the result of gross negligence, the maximum in this case issued to the company, a commercial pest controlÂ operator based in Eugene. In addition, the applicator, James P. Mischkot, Jr., was issued a $6,000 civil penalty.
When the incident in Eugene occurred, the trees were in full bloom and attracting pollinators. Â In this case, ODA determined that the company and its applicator knew or should have known of this standard of care, yet disregarded it.
The reasonable standard of care for pesticide application activities in Oregon includes anticipating the presence of pollinators in Oregon. Last year, ODA adopted a label requirement on pesticide products containing imidacloprid and dinotefuran stating that the application of these products on linden trees and other Tilia species was prohibited. The regulation was a response to high-profile bee deaths last year in which 50,000 bumblebees, likely representing over 300 colonies, were found dead or dying in Wilsonville due to use ofÂ dinotefuran, followed by the deaths of hundreds of bees a week later after the same pesticide was used in the neighboring town of Hillsboro.
Neonicotinoids, including dinotefuran, can be broadly applied as a spray, soil drench, or seed treatment. However, the ability of these chemicals to translocate through a plant as it grows has led to the creation of a large market within chemical-intensive landscaping and agriculture. Once these systemic pesticides are taken up by a plantâ€™s vascular system, they are expressed through pollen, nectar, and guttation dropletsÂ that pollinators, such as bees, come into contact with whileÂ foraging, pollinating,Â and drinking. Neonicotinoids kill sucking and chewing insects by disrupting their nervous systems. Beginning in the late 1990s, these systemic insecticides also began to take over the seed treatment market. ClothianidinÂ andÂ imidaclopridÂ are two of the most commonly used neonicotinoid pesticides. Both are known to be toxic to insect pollinators, and are lead suspects as causal factors inÂ honey bee colony collapse disorder. An extensive overview of the major studies showing the effects of neonicotinoids on pollinator health can be found on Beyond Pesticidesâ€™Â What the Science ShowsÂ webpage.
Eugene became the first community in the nation to specifically ban from city property the use ofÂ neonicotinoid pesticides. Other communities across the country are also taking initiative in addressing bee decline by restricting or banning the use of neonicotinoids, including Shorewood (Minnesota), SpokaneÂ (Washington),Â Emory University,Â and University of Vermont Law School.
Over the past few years, Beyond Pesticides, other advocacy groups, and beekeepers have filedÂ legal petitions and lawsuitsÂ with EPA, calling on the agency to suspend the use of neonicotinoids. Yet, years later the agency has refused and indicated it will review the registration status of the neonicotinoids by 2018. The White HouseÂ issued aÂ presidential memorandumÂ on pollinator health to the heads of federal agencies requiring action to â€śreverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels.â€ť The President is directing agencies to establish a Pollinator Health Task Force, and to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, including a Pollinator Research Action Plan by the middle of December.Â The memorandum recognizes the severe losses in the populations of the nationâ€™s pollinators, including honey bees, wild bees, monarch butterflies, and others and the impact to the agricultural economy. However, the White House recentlyÂ announced that it would miss the deadlineÂ to provide a pollinator health strategy.
Meanwhile, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)Â announced new guidelines for federal agenciesÂ to incorporate pollinator friendly practices at federal facilities and on federal lands. Critical to pollinator health within these guidelines is a requirement that agencies should â€ś[a]cquire seeds and plants from nurseries that do not treat their plants with systemic insecticides.â€ť The document also states that, â€śChemical controls that can adversely affect pollinator populations should not be applied in pollinator habitats. This includes herbicides, broad spectrum contact and systemic insecticides, and some fungicides.â€ť In keeping with the recognition that pollinators need protecting from pesticides, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serviceâ€™s announced this summerÂ that the agency will eliminate neonicotinoid use on National Wildlife Refuges.
For more information on how to improve pollinator health and habitat, see theÂ BEE Protective webpage, where you can find theÂ Pollinator Friendly Seed and Nursery Directory, which lists sources of seeds and plant starts that are safe for bees and not poisoned with neonicotinoids or other pesticides. Join efforts to protect pollinators and educate your community about the importance of these creatures atÂ BEE Protective.
Sources: ODA News
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides