The Oregon Department of Agriculture has confirmed that the insecticide Safari, sprayed on 55 blooming European linden trees, was to blame for what is now estimated to be 50,000 bumblebee deaths.
ODA and the city of Wilsonville spent all day Friday covering the linden trees with bee-proof mesh to prevent further bee kills. Now the state agency is investigating a second, smaller die-off in Hillsboro of 500 to 1,000 bees in an area that had been sprayed with the same insecticide earlier this year.
Many people who commented on the story last week said the Wilsonville bee kill underscores the risk of using pesticides at all and the importance of reading the labels on how to apply them.
“I’m sure if they had read the label, they probably wouldn’t have made such a grave error,” said a reader named Kat. “I just wish the landscape company had come up with a much better alternative than using a pesticide.”
Some readers blamed Target and threatened to boycott the store even though an unnamed landscaping company sprayed the insecticide on a part of the parking lot that is rented by the land management company, Elliott Associates, Inc.
Elliott Associates issued a statement on its Facebook page after receiving numerous complaints and promised to take “a proactive course of action” if the cause of the bee deaths were attributable “to our actions or those of our contractors.”
One commenter, treelady, actually quoted the Safari label, which warns users not to spray in an area with “blooming crops or weeds if bees are visiting the treatment area.”
Dan Hillburn of the Oregon Department of Agriculture said the label on the insecticide might have been confusing because the warning refers to flowering crops but not ornamental plants such as linden trees. The agency is still investigating whether the label’s instructions were violated and by whom. In the meantime, the state is not releasing the name of the company that applied the Safari to the linden trees.
“If we’re going to tarnish somebody’s reputation we want to make sure we’ve got all the facts,” said Hilburn.
Reader livnletlv said:
“If it didn’t violate a law, it’s time to pass that law!”
Jeff Lewis was one of several readers who argued the state shouldn’t protect the company by withholding its name. If people call to complain, he said, “all the company has to do is ignore those few contacts while they concentrate on cleaning up the mess they created.”
Some readers argue that the pesticides blamed for the bee deaths, neonicotinoids, should be banned because of their known impacts on pollinators such as bumblebees. In fact, there is an organization called Beyond Toxics that has been working to ban neonicotinoids in Eugene.
Reader Karen McCarthy said she hopes the landscaping company that applied the pesticides “gets fined heavily for this to prevent future misapplications.”
Reader Terra suggested further action:
“In addition to possible fines, perhaps the responsible company could provide ongoing education for others in the industry and help create a garden featuring the best plants for pollinators.”
Reader Angela Macau said “plenty of people out there know how to deal with pests without pesticides. Stop using them!”
Several readers complained that the insecticide application in the parking lot wasn’t justified. The linden trees had been sprayed for aphids, which create honeydew that drips from the trees and, in this case, onto cars in the parking lot.
“No doubt they were trying to solve a problem,” Hilburn said of the landscaping company that sprayed the Safari. “They picked a pesticide that was inappropriate for this particular situation because the trees are in flower and the bees just love them so there are lots of bees here, and it’s very sad.”
Reader dagobarbz said people could avoid parking under the linden trees while they’re in bloom:
“You don’t have to kill the planet so your car won’t get stained.”
Mace Vaughn of the Xerces Society said the same type of insecticide is widely available to the public and that homeowners should be careful to avoid accidentally killing pollinators.
“The product that was used on these tress is more or less available to every homeowner in America,” he said. “You can pick it up off the shelf here at Target or at any lawn and garden store, and there’s no indication on the label that your use of that product in your backyard could have the same effect on a smaller scale.”
This story originally appeared on ecotrope.opb.org