Bees have made their way into conversations more times in the last few months than in years past, and there’s a reason. The bees are dying, not by the hundreds or thousands, but by the critical millions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency the leading cause of this crisis is pesticide use.
When the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture found Asian citrus psyllids this past March in Summerland, Santa Barbara County turned to pesticides as a solution, even though the disease carried by the psyllid, Huanglongbing, was not found. The disease is deadly to citrus trees, and the state worries it will wipe out citrus groves in California as it has in Florida. The problem with the pesticide solution, says the National Pesticide Information Center, is that the active ingredient, imidacloprid, is highly toxic to bees. Imidacloprid is considered so deadly to bees that the European Union has banned it.
In Summerland, 44 percent of homeowners opted out of the spray, thanks to a public information campaign by the Santa Barbara Beekeeper’s Association, but the spraying still took place.
This is not the first time bees close to home took a heavy hit. In fall 2012, 16 bee colonies in Montecito were found with an estimated 750,000 bees dead, all within a 1.5-mile radius. After screening by Penn State University, the culprit was determined to be pesticides.
In Alameda County, on Tuesday, July 8, environmental and food safety groups brought a challenge to California’s practice of approving new agricultural uses for neonicotinoid pesticides — of which imidacloprid is one — despite mounting evidence that the pesticides are killing honeybees. Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety, and Beyond Pesticides joined together to file a lawsuit in the Superior Court for the County of Alameda against the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR). This lawsuit specifically challenges DPR’s June 13, 2014, decision to expand the use of two harmful neonicotinoid insecticides — Venom Insecticide and Dinotefuran 20SG, both of which have yet to be fully reviewed for impact on pollinators. “Unless halted, the use of these pesticides threatens not only the very survival of our pollinators, but the fate of whole ecosystems. Scientists have consistently documented widespread environmental contamination from neonicotinoids as they build up in our soil and waterways, especially in California. The DPR has a responsibility to step in and say no,” commented Andrew Kimbrell, executive Director of Center for Food Safety in a Beyond Pesticides press release.
What does this mean for the bees of Santa Barbara? The result from this case could affect all other counties where the pesticide use and other facts are the same or even similar. That being said, the decision made in this case could affect future cases and possibly propel groups in Santa Barbara to file a legal challenge against the use of such pesticides here.
In the last month, President Obama created a task force of various agencies to address the rapid loss of honey bees and other pollinators. His budget for next year recommends about $50 million for multiple agencies to boost research, increase the number of acres dedicated to pollinator conservation programs, and boost funding for research on pollinator loss.
Bee pollination is directly responsible for more than $15 billion in crop values each year, and one in three mouthfuls in our diet are benefitted by the honeybee. Discouraged with the lack of a clear timeline for evaluating the harms of the pesticides, California legislators are advancing a bill (AB 1789) that would pressure DPR to finish its review of neonicotinoids within the next two years.