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State task force explores bee die-off issues

A legislative task force has two months to come up with recommendations about what more Oregon should do to protect bee pollinators.

Although much of the discussion has focused on pesticides and their regulation, task force members acknowledge that bee health also is affected by diseases, parasites and plant habitat.

Members heard Wednesday from Jeffrey Jenkins, a professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at Oregon State University, who described how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registers pesticides.

Because of recent bee die-offs, Jenkins said, EPA is testing how specific pesticides affect honeybees. But he also said there are many unanswered questions about what their effects are — particularly about their residual toxicity after spraying — and why there are die-offs in the first place.

“There is just not the information and not enough knowledge,” he says.

Among the task force members is a critic of pesticide use. Also on the task force are representatives of Associated Oregon Industries, Oregon Association of Nurseries and Oregonians for Food and Shelter, plus a past president of American Beekeeping Federation and an Oregon State University professor who specializes in honeybees.

“We are actually trying to find areas of agreement,” says Christy Splitt, external affairs director for the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and a task force member.

Members are expected to consider a report that encompasses regulation, education and outreach — and how to pay for the additional steps.

The task force has a deadline of Oct. 1 to submit its report to lawmakers.

Background

It was created earlier this year by a bill that originally would have classified some insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, as restricted-use pesticides requiring licenses. But lawmakers removed that provision during their 2014 session.

Neonicotinoids contain nicotine.

The bill was prompted by a series of bee die-offs, mostly in the Portland area, during 2013.

The largest such incident took place in June 2013, when an estimated 50,000 bees died after the spraying of the parking lot at the Target store in Wilsonville. Linden trees in bloom were sprayed with dinotefuran in an attempt to kill aphids, which mar vehicle windshields..

Other die-offs were reported in downtown Portland, where linden trees in bloom were sprayed with imidacloprid, the Oregon Golf Club in West Linn, and Hillsboro.

Most were bumblebees; there was no estimate of how many were honeybees.

After investigations of the four incidents last year, the Oregon Department of Agriculture issued six fines totaling $2,886.

Collier Arbor Care of Clackamas was fined $555 in the Wilsonville incident and $407 in the Portland incident. The labels for both products state that they are hazardous to bees when flowering trees are in bloom.

Two applicators in the Wilsonville incident also were fined $555 each, and two applicators in the Portland incident, $407 each.

In the West Linn incident, the agency did not issue fines, but Collier Arbor Care was cited for incomplete pesticide records and an applicator without the appropriate license. The applicator also was cited. The notations will be on their records for three years.

No wrongdoing was determined in the Hillsboro incident.

In June, while the task force was getting underway, the state agency suspended the license of Glass Tree Care and Spray Service of Eugene after the spraying of 17 linden trees resulted in a die-off of an estimated 1,000 bees.

The Eugene City Council voted in February to ban neonicotinoids, but the ban applies only to city property.

Last year, the Oregon Department of Agriculture put a six-month restriction on the use of 18 products with neonicotinoids. That restriction was lifted in December, but starting Jan. 1, the agency required an Oregon-specific label governing use of products with dinotefuran and imidacloprid. The label bars their use on linden trees and other species.

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