Pollinators, like bees, are essential to our everyday lives. They are a key component of healthy ecosystems, essential to our survival and extremely important to our economy. In fact, pollinators contributed more than $24 billion to the United States economy. Yet a new study reports that many pollinator species are facing rapid extinction. Protecting them should be one of our highest priorities.
And here in California, we’re looking to do just that.
One way Californians are working to help save pollinators is by buying pollinator-friendly products. But in some cases, seeds and plants are pre-treated with harmful pesticides before farmers, nurseries and home gardeners see them. And yet, the Department of Pesticide Regulation has rebuffed any efforts to further restrict these products, or better inform plant purchasers, until they complete their assessments of one type of pesticide in particular: neonicotinoids (nēō-nǐkětǐnōǐds). This widely used class of pesticides has been linked to the collapse of one-third of honeybee colonies in the U.S. over the last decade. California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, in coordination with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), confirmed the most widely used neonicotinoid – imdacloprid – is highly toxic to bees. Exposure to imdacloprid results in reduced numbers of worker bees, less foraging, and delayed development. Clearly, we need to ensure that higher levels of neonicotinoids, and other pesticides like it, are more intensely regulated in the name of the health of our pollinators.
Unfortunately, the state does not seem to fully understand how urgently we need to protect our pollinators. While California has acknowledged that neonicotinoids posed a potential threat to bees and other pollinators, it only began a more serious review in 2009. It will take the EPA at least another two years to complete its final assessment on neonicotinoids. In the meantime, the state needs to take action.
One proposed bill in the California state legislature could provide a solution. State Senators Mark Leno and Ben Allen have proposed a new bill (Senate Bill 1282) that would help in two ways. First, following the Department’s criteria, the bill makes seven current neonicotinoid pesticides restricted materials, meaning the use of these neonicotinoids without a license will result in a misdemeanor. It also permits the local County Agricultural Commissioners to oversee any use of the pesticides, and wouldn’t prevent the use of the product in the case of an emergency. Second, the bill would require all products treated with neonicotinoids to be clearly labeled, and specifically identify the potential of the product to harm bees. This is a measure we know that conscientious California consumers are eager to see put in place.
Placing bee-harming products only in the hands of those with training, and giving seed and plant purchasers the information they need to make an informed decision, should go a long way toward helping stop the decline of pollinators here in California.
Defenders will be working in the legislature to pass this bill, and we will keep you updated on how it moves along. If you live in California, we may need your help — so stay tuned! Until then, no matter where you live, you can still voice your support to protect pollinators, and take simple steps around your home to make it more bee-friendly.