Reason to Bee Hopeful?
There is an article in the most recent Science section of the New York Times on efforts to fight the worrisome decline of bees. The focus is on increasing the availability of plants in agricultural areas that provide forage for pollinators.
In California, researchers are testing native plants for use in hedgerows or among crops. In the Upper Midwest, there is a modestly funded federal project aimed at promoting alfalfa and other cover crops, as well as leaving more land fallow along fence rows.
The decline of bees is not entirely understood, but it seems that neonicotinoid insecticides are a big part of it. Parasites and disease may also play a role. So why is the focus on expanding food sources for bees? According to Jeffrey Pettis, lead bee researcher at the Agricultural Research Service, better fed bees will be more able to resist threats in the environment: “If they have a good nutritional foundation, they can survive some of the things they are faced with.”
This may be true, but I have to wonder if restricting or banning the use of neonicotinoid pesticides would be more effective. According to a report that reviews all the studies done on this subject, these pesticides are highly toxic to bees and persistent in plants and the environment. There is no direct evidence linking neonicotinoids to Colony Collapse Disorder among bees, but there is some evidence that they make bees more vulnerable to parasites and disease.
Recommended manufacturer application rates for neonicotinoid products sold to homeowners are up to 120 times the approved rates for agriculture – and there is frequently no warning of the risk to bees.
Pesticides for the home garden that include neonicotinoids are marketed under a variety of trademarks, including:
- Bayer Advanced 3-in-1 Insect, Disease, & Mite Control
- Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Insect Control
- Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Protect & Feed
- Bayer Advanced Fruit, Citrus & Vegetable Insect Control
- Bayer Advanced All-in-One Rose & Flower Care concentrate
- DIY Tree Care Products Multi-Insect Killer
- Ferti-lome 2-N-1 Systemic
- Hi-Yield Systemic Insect Spray
- Knockout Ready-To-Use Grub Killer
- Lesco Bandit
- Monterey Once a Year Insect Control II
- Ortho Bug B Gon Year-Long Tree & Shrub Insect Control
- Ortho MAX Tree & Shrub Insect Control
- Surrender Brand GrubZ Out
- Bayer All-In-One Rose and Flower Care Granules
- Green Light Grub Control with Arena
- Maxide Dual Action Insect Killer
- Ortho Flower, Fruit, and Vegetable Insect Killer
- Ortho Rose and Flower Insect Killer
- Green Light Insect Control with Safari 2G
- Zylem 20SG Turf Insecticide
The issue comes down to money, as it so often does. As with other environmental issues, immediate economic benefit tends to trump long-term risk, even if the risks are potentially catastrophic. Fortunately, there are some who are working to overcome such short-sighted thinking.
For instance, some farmers are taking a longer view. The NYT article profiles a California vineyard that plants hedgerows and bee-friendly plants among the vines. The owner expects these techniques to pay for themselves eventually, even if they haven’t yet.
Do you think use of neonicotinoids and other insecticides should be more restricted than it is now?