This week marks twelve years since the U.S. Senate unanimously approved that a week in June be designated “National Pollinator Week”. In 2006, one year before the Senate’s approval, beekeepers were reporting massive numbers of worker bees abandoning seemingly healthy hives, leaving the brood and queen to starve. This phenomenon, dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD) by the USDA, saw average colony losses of over 30%.
What is the cause of CCD? The short answer is we don’t know exactly. Even though CCD has declined since 2008, overall colony loss has increased. Most researchers agreed there are multiple factors, such as pathogens, parasitic mites, and pesticides, but no single factor can be singled out as the primary cause. Among the most-cited potential factors are a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics, which includes active ingredients like acetamiprid, imidacloprid, dinotefuran, thiamethoxam, and clothianidin. Neonics are a group of systemic pesticidal compounds that are taken up through a plants vascular system and spread throughout the stems, leaves, fruit, flowers, and pollen.
Initially, the focus of regulators was on the agricultural use of neonics as a seed coating or soil application. This changed in June of 2013, when some 50,000 bumblebees died in Wilsonville, Oregon following the treatment of 55 trees with a neonic. Although researchers argue over the degree to which they are responsible, manufacturers are now required to include a Pollinator Protection Box that alerts users of additional restrictions. Among the key requirements are avoiding the use of these products when bees are actively foraging or on plants they are likely to forage on, as well as minimizing drift to beehives or off-site pollinator habitat.
Since this is National Pollinator Awareness Week, here are some ways PMPs can reduce pollinator exposure to pesticides:
· Be alert to the presence of blooming vegetation, including crops and weeds.
· When possible, remove blossoms of weeds such as dandelion before applying bee-toxic pesticides.
· Be sure to only use bee-toxic pesticides during the explicitly stated time frames stated on the label.
· Use least-hazardous formulations. Dusts and microencapsulated formulations are most hazardous to bees while granular formulations are the least hazardous when bees are present.
· Minimize drift. Bees will visit the blooms of crops and/or weeds near target crops and be unintentionally impacted by pesticide drift that lands on these blooms. Be aware of wind speed, direction, as well as the type of application equipment and associated pressure(s) you are using.
· Communicate with beekeepers. If you know of any beekeepers in the area you are applying, it’s not a bad idea to reach out to them as a show of good will. Let them know you are considering their situation and will work with them to ensure their colonies are healthy.
· Know your local regulations. Check for specific local ordinances pertaining to pollinators, especially beehive locations or designated preserves if applicable. Your state department of agriculture is an excellent place to start. For more information, check out the National Conference of State Legislatures website.