America’s Most Bee-Friendly City

After banning the use of neonicotinoids on city property, Eugene was named “America’s most bee-friendly city” by Beyond Toxics, a Eugene-based environmental group. Beyond Toxics organized a Bee-Fest celebration on Saturday, May 31, at Washington Park to commend the action.

Neonicotinoids Bad, Bees Good

Neonicontinoids, also called neonics, are pesticides that have been implicated in widespread bee die-offs. In February, the Eugene City Council banned the use of neonics. A study in May found that the health of bee colonies in the region has been suffering recently. Through last winter, the report found a 23 percent decrease in colonies; the previous winter experienced a 31 percent decrease.

Because bees pollinate plants of all kinds, including one-quarter of those that make up over 25 percent of the food consumed in the United States, the ban is seen as a step in the right direction. “We wouldn’t be eating things like blueberries and apples and beans and squash [without bees],” Lisa Arkin, Beyond Toxics Executive Director, told Bee-Fest attendees. “We’re here to celebrate bees of all kinds—bumblebees, honeybees, wood bees, burrowing bees.”

Beeland! - Photo credit: Danny Perez Photography / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Beeland! – Photo credit: Danny Perez Photography / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

As part of the celebration, fresh honey from the Healthy Bees-Healthy Gardens program was available for tasting. The program places bee hives on city blocks where homeowners have sworn off the use of all types of pesticides. Healthy Bees-Healthy Gardens has placed 15 hives so far throughout Eugene.

The Save Oregon’s Pollinators Act

To a lesser extent, the Bee-Fest was also a celebration of the statewide Save Oregon’s Pollinators Act. Also passed in February, it was originally intended to limit the use of neonicontinoids to licensed commercial applicators and eliminate off-the-shelf consumer products that contain neonics. Ultimately, a weaker version of the bill was passed that created a governor-appointed task force to study the pesticides and requires commercial operators to take a course on pollinator health.

“The ban on neonics is for all pollinators, not just bees,” said Eugene City Councilor George Brown. “Although bees are super-important, it’s also [ensuring] butterflies won’t be killed. They’re pollinators, too.” Brown is working to create more city parks that are entirely pesticide-free; nine Eugene parks are currently.

Save Orgeon’s Pollinators was created after two incidents in Wilsonville and Hillsboro that saw tens of thousands of dead bees scattered across parking lots after nearby trees had been sprayed with neonicontinoids.

Cause of Bee Deaths: Chemicals or Mites?

The chemical companies who produce neonics have, unsurprisingly, argued that it is not chemicals that are killing bees on such a wide scale, but rather mites. Environmentalists point to neonics. Studies have shown that it’s likely a combination of the two: the chemicals weaken bees’ immune systems, making them more vulnerable to mite bites.

Neonicontinoids can be found in soil where pesticides have been sprayed as much as seven years later, according to Arkin. Plants absorb the chemical and bees are affected through the plants’ nectar. From there, “It’s taken […] to the hive and little by little over time […] it poisons the brood and then kills the hive,” Arkin said. She added that, because the chemicals re “so persistent and so systemic, there is no safe use of a neonic ever. Anywhere.”

This story was originally reported by The Register-Guard.