Oregon’s Native Bees Are In Steep Decline!
Native bees, such as bumblebees and solitary bees that provide essential pollination for agricultural crops and native plants, are in trouble. Many species are at risk of extinction. The fruits and seeds that are produced as a result of native pollinators are eaten by birds, mammals, and other animals. As pollinator populations decline, the lower production of healthy fruits and vegetables is placing the entire natural system in peril.
Healthy and diverse pollinator populations are an integral piece in the larger picture of worldwide health and nutrition. Bees and other pollinating insects are crucial to the food produced by more than 2.5 billion small farmers worldwide. Research shows that if pollination is managed well on small diverse farms, crop yields increase by a statistically significant median of 24 percent. Foods richest in nutrients, such as kale, blueberries, apples and almonds depend on insect pollination. If a crop has been well pollinated, then larger and more nutritious leaves, fruits and seeds will develop. Plants naturally tend to put more of their growing energy into well-pollinated flowers and fruits thus increasing their quality, taste and nutritional value. The result is more nutrition per ounce of food, an important aspect of sustainable food production.
Amid rapid climate changes and other impacts of human activities, we are witnessing continuous declines in pollinator health across the planet. If this trend continues, nutrient-dense crops such as fruits, nuts and many vegetables will be replaced largely by self-pollinating and wind-pollinated crops like rice, corn and wheat. The intensification of agricultural monocropping and widespread pesticides use has a significant impact on wild bee declines across the globe. The unpredictable changes in global climate are likely to make such problems worse in the future.
Neonicotinoid pesticides (also called neonics), are a major contributing factor to the catastrophic loss of bees and other animals. Neonicotinoid insecticides are highly toxic to pollinators (or any invertebrate) at very low doses. They are absorbed and taken up by the plant, ending up in all plant tissues, including the nectar and pollen collected by pollinators and the seeds, fruits, and leaves eaten by other animals. These products are often applied as soil treatments in the form of granules or drenches, where they can persist for many years and continue to contaminate plants, kill earthworms and other important beneficial soil organisms, and run off into surface water where they can kill aquatic invertebrates. An analysis by a consortium of independent scientists from around the globe reviewed more than 800 peer-reviewed studies and concluded that neonicotinoid insecticides pose a significant risk to the world’s pollinators, worms, birds and other animals and that immediate action is needed. Studies conclude that pesticide application rates that regulatory agencies consider protective to the environment actually harm aquatic organisms found in surface waters (dragonflies mayflies, snails and other animals that form the base of the food chain and a healthy, clean watershed) and build up in soils to levels that can kill soil organisms.
How common are neonics?
Neonics are the world’s most commonly used insecticides. They are used in agriculture, urban yards, and for termite and flea prevention in pets.
Where are neonics found?
Here is a list of common neonic products to watch out for (link). The majority of U.S. agricultural seeds in the U.S. are coated with neonics, and they are also sprayed directly onto crops and trees. The amount of neonics applied is much greater in urban areas than agricultural lands, where they are commonly found in treatments for turf grass, trees, shrubs and flowers. The neonic products found in stores can be applied at much greater rates than agriculture and some recommend drenching the soil every six weeks – directly to flower beds.
Consumers are Unsuspecting Users of Neonics
Pesticide labels don’t warn consumers about the uptake of neonicotinoids through tissue in trees and plants. Shoppers assume that products sold at garden and grocery stores are completely safe, thus are less likely to read pesticide labels. Research shows that the home use of pesticides containing neonicotinoids far exceeds “all safe levels” for pollinators and soil health.
Oregon’s Current Policy on Bees & Neonicotinoids
Oregon Policy on Bees and Neonicotinoids In 2015 Oregon passed legislation to require pollinator protection education for licensed pesticide applicators. This program has the potential to decrease the number of acute bee-kill incidents in professional settings. However, the 2015 legislation does not address the long-term persistence of neonicotinoids or the harm they cause to native pollinators and water quality.
Here is a list of alternatives to neonic-containing pesticides (link to alternatives poster.)
What are local cities doing?
Eugene Parks and Open Spaces Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Policy seeks to find the least toxic and most effective means of pest management on City property that pesticides be reduced or eliminated, wherever possible. Neonics are banned on City of Eugene properties. The majority of the city’s properties either have no pesticides applied or targeted and minimal quantities of pesticides (mostly herbicides) are applied as a last resort.
Eugene Parks and Open Spaces is currently working with local businesses and non-profit organizations to make Eugene a Bee City and to grow community awareness and support for reducing city-wide pesticide use.
What can you do?
1. Do not apply neonics to your yard. Avoid neonics! Check labels before buying products. Ask your landscaper for detailed information about any products applied to your yard and ensure that neonics are not used. Better yet, keep your yard healthy for people and the environment by going pesticide-free and using natural lawn care (link to neonics poster)
2. Grow bee-friendly flowers that bloom from spring to fall to provide food for pollinators. To avoid poisoning pollinators, ask your garden center or nursery if plants have been treated with neonics. Support nurseries that provide neonic-free plants. You can also grow plants from untreated seed or cuttings. Share untreated plants, cuttings and bulbs with your friends and neighbors! Consider filling your garden with native plants (link to native plant guides) to provide food for Oregon’s native bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators.
3. Take a pledge to protect pollinators and place signs on your property to let people know that you are providing a safe environment for pollinators.
4. Urge local food growers, nurseries and garden centers to support OPPA and new legislation to remove neonics from consumer store shelves.
By joining the Oregon Pollinator Protection Alliance (OPPA*) you are agreeing to the following:
1. I pledge NOT to use pesticides containing neonicotinoids: Imidacloprid, Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam, Acetemiprid, Nithiazine, Thiacloprid, or Dinotefuran.
2. I pledge to support native pollinators by planting native flowers and habitat and encouraging others to do the same.
3. I pledge to work with other OPPA partners to help pass policies that advance protections for Oregon’s native pollinators.
*OPPA will NOT work to change the availability of neonicotinoids to professional applicators, farmers or veterinarians who are trained and licensed.
The business and non-profit sponsors of OPPA (Oregon Pollinator Protection Act):
Use this handy solution chart (below) to help you decide which chemical pest-control methods are most efficient and least toxic to our precious pollinators!
Download the PVS Solution Chart (2 pages, PDF)
Check out our bee-friendly guides here:
Follow news about the Oregon Pollinator Protection Alliance on social media
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- Recommended resources
- Background: The threat to bees
- Read about Cultivating Bee-Friendly Gardens
- Read about Consumer Products to Avoid
- Take action to help Save Oregon’s Bees!
- Beyond Toxics blogs about the decline of bees and the dangers of neonicotinoid pesticides
- What are neonicotinoid pesticides?
- Read about the economics of saving bees: Bees by the numbers
- Gardeners Beware 2014 Report
- Read about Eugene, Oregon’s ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, the first of it’s kind in the nation
- Join Beyond Toxics
- Contact us
Beyond Toxics is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and all contributions are fully tax-deductible. Please consider giving a gift of a Beyond Toxics membership to a friend or family member!