Despite Insecticide Ban, Bees Still Dying Left & Right

Just a few short weeks ago, Eugene was named “America’s most bee-friendly city.” Now, the Oregon State Department of Agriculture has suspended the license of a longtime area tree spray company after a massive bee die-off at a spray site.

Neonicotinoids Again the Culprit

In February, the Eugene City Council banned the use of neonicontinoids, a form of insecticide that has been linked to massive bee deaths in the past, from use in parks and other city property. The ban does not apply to private property, however, and homeowners and commercial applicators can still use neonics in these places.

Such was the case on Tuesday, June 17, when Glass Tree Care and Spray Service treated a group of 17 linden trees along Jacobs Lane near Highway 99. On Wednesday, a television report showed hundreds of bees in the immediate vicinity dying, prompting the Department of Agriculture’s investigation. Glass is cooperating with the investigation.

Photo credit: nonperturbative / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Photo credit: nonperturbative / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Estimates say anywhere from 300 to 1,000 bees may have died on the spot—mostly bumblebees, but some honeybees as well. Experts say it is impossible to know how many bees in total have been affected by the neonics, as others could have flown away or returned to their hive before dying.

A year ago in Wilsonville, an incident involving neonicotinoids killed over 50,000 bees. Hillsboro and Oregon City experienced similar occurrences.

Pollinators Crucial to the Food Chain

Honeybee colonies have been decreasing in numbers nationwide for the past several years. Because honeybees act as pollinators, responsible for one in three bites of food that Americans eat, they are crucial to the food chain. In Oregon alone, apples, plums, peaches, blueberries, and other crops all require pollinators.

At the time they were sprayed, the Jacobs Lane linden trees were heavy with yellow blossoms—and pollen. This caused the bees to, well, beeline right for them, where the neonics killed many of them instantly. To prevent more bees from meeting the same fate, Glass agreed to cover the sprayed trees with shade cloth.

The Department of Agriculture said that the product Glass used was intended to control aphids, but did bear a label alerting applicators that it is “highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment or residues.”

“We know they used imidacloprid,” said Bruce Pokarney, a state DOA spokesman. “There are restrictions on its use, and using it under those conditions when pollinators are present is a violation. […] There is every reason for us to believe that they should have been aware that they shouldn’t use this when there’s blooms, when there’s bees, and on linden trees.

“As we pursue enforcement, we look towards whether there was negligence involved, whether an application was done in a faulty or negligent manner,” he added.

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