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Poisoned Pollen

Many plants rely on honeybees to pollinate them and facilitate reproduction, but colony collapse disorder (CCD), which is killing about one-third of bee colonies per year nationally, is making it much harder for bees to get their buzz on. 

A Jan. 3 study from Purdue University gives more evidence for a significant role of pesticides like clothianidin in causing CCD, but if it’s a problem for bees in Lane County, beekeepers won’t know. Clothianidin exposure in Lane County is not documented because the Legislature cut the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Use Reporting Program after collecting 2008 data.

The ODA ran the Pesticide Use Reporting Program for three years before it was suspended, and the program won’t be collecting data again until at least 2013. Beyond Toxics Executive Director Lisa Arkin says without pesticide use reporting, it’s hard to tell what sort of impact neonicotinoids are having on Oregon’s environment.

“It is shameful that the state of Oregon denies the residents of Oregon the right to know what toxic chemicals are in their air and in their water,” Arkin says of the program’s suspension. “They deny the communities the right to know that information, and it’s directly related to our health and the health of everything around us.”

OSU entomologist Ramesh Sagili told EW that while Oregon’s 24 percent winter die-off rate was better than the national 30 percent, it was still above the 10 percent die-off rate that beekeepers consider acceptable.

Clothianidin, an insecticide used on crops like corn and sugar beets, was found in pollen stored in the hive. The Purdue scientists also found that bees have multiple mechanisms of pesticide exposure, including farm machinery exhaust materials, agricultural soil and even dandelions visited by the foraging bees. Clothianidin is acutely toxic to bees and may weaken their ability to survive other threats like mites and weather.

Sierra Club’s Many Rivers Group Chair Sally Nunn says eliminating substances toxic to bees should stay on the local radar. “For those of us who love fresh, local peaches, tomatoes and other produce, safeguarding our pollinators in Lane County and beyond should be a high priority.”

Local beekeepers are trying to protect their colonies by establishing spray-free zones. Doug Hornaday, who began keeping bees a year ago, says, “The actual honeycomb starts to poison the bees after five years.” Hornaday believes there is neighborhood support for the first zone around Madison Meadows, and he hopes to establish more zones “one block at a time.” For more information, contact healthybeeshealthygardens@gmail.com