Watch out for that bottom part of the food chain: Honeybee colonies have been on the decline since the mid-2000s due to a problem known as “colony collapse disorder” or CCD. Local beekeepers say that this winter — a time when both traditional and CCD die-offs tend to occur — was particularly bad within the city of Eugene, and that’s likely due to the rise in garden pesticides containing neonicotinoids that threaten important agricultural pollinators like honeybees. Beekeepers and bird-lovers are petitioning local garden centers to stop carrying the culprits that have likely exacerbated CCD.
“It looks like we have a pretty fairly severe loss in the Eugene area this year, and that’s mostly in town,” says Gary Rondeau, a Eugene beekeeper who lives in the River Road area. He says CCD is more complicated than a one-cause issue — it’s not as simple as neonicotinoids killing bees, but neonicotinoids weaken bees so that a pathogen that probably wouldn’t have killed off a colony becomes a fatal problem. Plus, neonicotinoids don’t leave bees’ bodies, so bees that have been exposed a lot previously can be killed by very small doses alone.
“Starting in 2010, Ortho — which is one of the bigger brands in the lawn and garden business — they started marketing all-in-one products for roses and flowers and pushing a consumer product that has imidacloprid in it, which is one of the neonics that I’m really concerned about,” Rondeau says. Neonicotinoids attach permanently to receptors in the nervous system, so small quantities build up and leave entire populations weakened. Rondeau says that when neonicotinoid products are applied directly to seeds, just one seed can be enough to kill a bird. When they are applied to soil in an all-in-one flower fertilizer and pesticide, the soil remains toxic to bees for about 5 years.
“At any rate, from what I’ve heard from garden center places, they say this stuff is really taking off in Eugene,” Rondeau says, because gardeners don’t realize the product is bad for bees. In the United Kingdom, many garden centers have voluntarily discontinued neonicotinoid products.
He says that concerned Eugeneans have recently begun an anti-neonicotinoid campaign by talking with Northwest-based chains Jerry’s Home Improvement Center and Bi-Mart, and Bi-Mart might be receptive to discontinuing neonicotinoids after selling this year’s stock.