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Trump EPA OKs ‘Emergency’ Use of Bee-Killing Pesticide on 13.9 Million Acres

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Trump EPA OKs ‘Emergency’ Use of Bee-Killing Pesticide on 13.9 Million Acres
Bees pollinating sorghum. The EPA has not approved the lethal insecticide sulfoxaflor to be used on sorghum because it is known to attract bees. Sahaquiel9102 / Wikimedia

More than 40 percent of insects could go extinct globally in the next few decades. So why did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week OK the 'emergency' use of the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor on 13.9 million acres?

EcoWatch teamed up with Center for Biological Diversity via EcoWatch Live on Facebook to find out why. Environmental Health Director and Senior Attorney Lori Ann Burd explained how there is a loophole in the The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act under section 18, "that allows for entities and states to request emergency exemptions to spraying pesticides where they otherwise wouldn't be allowed to spray."


Watch the interview:

In a press release sent to EcoWatch, the Center for Biological Diversity stated:

The approval includes 2019 crops of cotton and sorghum in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Ten of the 11 states have been granted the approvals for at least four consecutive years for the same "emergency." Five have been given approvals for at least six consecutive years.

If an occurrence is happening six years in a row, does that justify an emergency?

"This administration has been grossly abusing this exemption to allow the use of this one pesticide called sulfoxaflor on a vast acreage year after year," said Burd.

Our biodiversity is at serious risk. For example, in Texas — where 5.8 million acres got emergency exemption to spray — more than 800 native bee species and eight species of bumblebees reside. It is also an important migration route for monarch butterflies.

"Monarch butterflies and eight species of bumblebees do overlap with Texas counties where there is sulfoxaflor spraying," said Burd. "Even at subacute, very low doses, sufoxaflor will have a very dramatic effect on bumblebee reproduction." The purpose of sulfoxaflor is to kill insects.

Farmers have only gotten away with spraying sulfoxaflor because they were granted emergency. The EPA has not approved the lethal insecticide sulfoxaflor to be used on sorghum because it is known to attract bees. At one point the EPA did allow the use of sulfoxaflor on cotton, however the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the approval — the result of a lawsuit brought to them by beekeepers.

In a summary following the vacated approval in 2015, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit published conclusions:

The panel held that because the EPA's decision to unconditionally register sulfoxaflor was based on flawed and limited data, the EPA's unconditional approval was not supported by substantial evidence. The panel vacated the EPA's unconditional registration because given the precariousness of bee populations, leaving the EPA's registration of sulfoxaflor in place risked more potential environmental harm than vacating it.

Criticism has been raised by the fact-checking resource Snopes on the grounds that it is misleading to imply that Trump is the only one who's approved emergency exemptions for sulfoxaflor. EcoWatch asked the Center for Biological diversity to respond.

"This is not a new problem," said Burd. "This has been going on for six consecutive years and we have not been in the Trump administration for six consecutive years." So, yes, Trump's EPA did this, but "this is by no means a new problem. Our pesticide registration and approval process is fundamentally broken. EPA's pesticide office is captured by industry and they are not doing their jobs protecting human health and the environment from these pesticides," said Burd.

EcoWatch asked Burd if there anything the public can do to stop these emergency approvals and prevent the use of toxic pesticides.

Burd suggested EcoWatchers consider signing a petition "demanding that Trump's EPA stop rubber-stamping 'emergency' uses of pesticides that wreak havoc on our environment." EcoWatchers can also help by getting involved with various groups working to protect the environment, choosing organic, refusing the use of pesticides at home, talking about not using them at work or at a homeowners association, supporting local ordinances going after pesticide issues, voting often or early and planting pollinator friendly gardens in rural and urban environments.

Agricultural spraying. Marcos Alves / Moment Open

Correction: A previous version of this article used the above photo of agricultural spraying as headline image. Headline image has been updated for clarity.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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