The debate over the connection between pesticide use and the decline in bee health reached a dizzying pace this summer.
The alleged role of neonicotinoid pesticides in widespread bee die offs over the last several years catapulted to the public policy forefront last summer, thanks largely to an Oregon landscaper's application of a dinotefuran product at a shopping center parking lot that resulted in the deaths of 50,000 bumblebees.
Shortly after the late June bee kill, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) announced in mid-August that it would add language to the labels of some neonicotinoid pesticide products prohibiting use of the products where bees are present. Specifically, the changes applied to all products with outdoor non-agricultural foliar use directions (except granulars) containing the active ingredients imidacloprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin or thiamethoxam regardless of formulation, concentration, or intended user.
Public policy activity related to the possible connection between neonicotinoids and other pesticides and the decline in bee health intensified this summer as a flurry of significant action took place at the federal, state and local levels of government. Below is a recap of the most notable developments of the last 10 weeks.
President Obama’s Memo on Pollinators
President Barack Obama capped off National Pollinator Week in late June by issuing a Presidential Memorandum expanding Federal efforts to reverse pollinator losses and helps restore populations to healthy levels. The Memorandum establishes a Pollinator Health Task Force chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of U.S. EPA and charged with developing a National Pollinator Health Strategy within six months that includes an Action Plan.
EPA Reverses Course on PR Notice
Late last year, EPA indicated that it would issue a draft Pesticide Registration Notice sometime in 2014 proposing to add language similar to the pollinator protection wording it added to some neonicotinoid labels to all pesticide products. The issuance of this document was expected to be the most significant summertime policy action related to pesticides and bee health. It appears, however, that those plans have been scrapped.
Instead, EPA is placing greater emphasis on state pollinator protection plans. While nothing has been finalized and the issue appears very fluid, U.S. EPA did write state regulatory officials in mid-August to express an interest in working together to develop state pollinator protection plans. The plans are a key byproduct of the Presidential Memo. NPMA has requested to be part of any group charged with developing a model state pollinator protection plan or establishing minimum standards for such plans.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Phase Out Neonicotinoid Use at Wildlife Refuges
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in mid-July that the use of neonicotinoid pesticides at national wildlife refuges would be phased out by January 2016. According to a July 17 memo from the Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, the decision was "based on a precautionary approach to our wildlife management practices, and not on agricultural practices." The memo also states "That there can be appropriate and specialized uses of neonicotinoid pesticides and decisions for the uses in the Service are subject to review through all applicable laws, regulations, and policies including, but not limited to, the National Environmental Policy Act."
NRDC Petitions EPA to Commence Special Review for Neonicotinoid Pesticides
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in early-July petitioned U.S. EPA to request that the Agency commence a Special Review for six specific neonicotinoid pesticides — dinotefuran, acetamiprid, clothianidin, thiacloprid, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam — based on the risk that NRDC believes this class of pesticides poses to honey bees and native bees. The request effectively seeks to expedite EPA's ongoing evaluation of neonicotinoid insecticides.
Also in early July, the Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides and the Pesticide Action Network North America, filed a state lawsuit against the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), alleging that DPR violated the law by approving expanded use of neonicotinoid pesticides. The suit seeks to prohibit DPR from approving any new neonicotinoid products or new uses of those products until it completes required reevaluations of the pesticides.
Congressmen Circulate Neonicotinoid Letter
In mid-August, Congressmen Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and John Conyers of Michigan circulated to fellow House colleagues a letter they had drafted to send to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, in hopes of getting other Members to sign on. The letter, which will likely be sent later this month, makes numerous recommendations, including that EPA restrict the use of neonicotinoids on bee attractive crops and ornamental applications, limit the times, methods of application, and locations of neonicotinoid use and, in instances where bees and other pollinators cannot be fully protected, suspend the use of neonicotinoid products. The letter also urges EPA to reclassify commercial neonicotinoid products as restricted use.
The California Legislature in late August passed and sent to Governor Jerry Brown for his consideration legislation directing DPR to complete its reevaluation of neonicotinoid pesticides by July 1, 2018 and to adopt any control measures needed to protect pollinator health within two years of completing the reassessment. The measure essentially synchronizes California's reexamination of neonicotinoids with when U.S. EPA's anticipates concluding its registration review of the chemistry.
Meanwhile, the Oregon Department of Agriculture in mid-July adopted emergency rulemaking prohibiting the use of products containing dinotefuran and imidacloprid to treat linden trees and other Tilia species trees. The measure, which will remain in effect until December 23, 2014, was adopted in response to several reports of bee kills involving the use of the aforementioned products. State officials and researchers are investigating the incidents and whether there may be some sort of synergistic effect between Tilia species trees and the two products.
In November of 2013, ODA decided to require as a condition of 2014 state registration that a label statement prohibiting use on Tilia species trees would be required, for certain products containing dinotefuran or imidacloprid. The emergency rule also covers older stocks of products that do not contain the new label restrictions.
Local Government Activity
In late June, the Spokane City Council voted 5-2 prohibiting the city from purchasing neonicotinoid pesticides or using the compounds on city property. In early August, the Shorewood (MN) City Council approved a resolution banning the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on city property.
NPMA Launches Pollinator Protection Training
As the activity described above well illustrates, the role neonicotinoids and other pesticides play in the decline in bee health is a hot button issue, often driven by emotion and well-funded activist groups. Nevertheless, it is important that PMPs and their technicians closely follow label directions and take steps to avoid inadvertently exposing honey bees to pesticides.
To that end, NPMA will soon unveil pollinator protection training as part of NPMA Online Learning Center. Training objectives include, enhanced awareness about pollinator health, neonicotinoid label changes and common sense techniques on how to avoid exposing beneficial pollinators to insecticides while performing exterior treatments. In addition, the training contains a section on how to identify beneficial pollinators while acknowledging the fact that PMPs are sometimes called on to control pollinators when they become a threat to public health.
In August, NPMA launched PollinatorHealth.org, a web site designed to serve as a comprehensive resource for consumers, media, educators and pest control professionals to better understand pollinator health, the issues that threaten pollinators and the importance of protecting them.