The county supervisors found themselves drawn into a discussion about bee colony collapse Tuesday in response to a departmental show-and-tell report by the Agriculture Commissioner requested by North County supervisors Peter Adam and Steve Lavagnino. Members of the Santa Barbara Beekeepers Alliance urged the Board of Supervisors to keep an open mind about alternative pest control methods when dealing with billion dollar crop killers like the Asian citrus psyllid. The psyllid doesn’t kill citrus trees directly, but the bacteria some carry do and are invariably lethal.
Santa Barbara County was placed in a state of quarantine last year after a handful of psyllids were found, though none were carrying the deadly bacteria. The problem, say beekeepers, is the chemicals used to kill the psyllid — neonicotinoids — can be deadly to bees pollinating trees in bloom. Neonicotanoids were implicated in the recent die off of 25,000 bees in Oregon. Or, as a state pesticide agent involved in Goleta’s recent eradication effort obliquely put it, “There are some nontarget pests that get targeted in our application. We try to mitigate the secondary effects.” Supervisor Peter Adam — a farmer — disclosed he kept 20 beehives as a teen. He described neonicotanoids as being “super safe for humans and pets,” adding, it puts “all the stuff you’re trying to kill — piercing, sucking insects — in real trouble, but the rest of us are safe.”
In Santa Barbara County, the citrus crop is valued at an estimated $10.8 million. Given the high stakes involved, COLAB spokesperson Andy Caldwell — normally quick to argue against government spending — argued the supervisors should increase funding and staff for the county’s Agriculture Commissioner. “It’s our food supply,” he exclaimed, “and secondarily, Mother Nature is not benign.”