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.
Breaking: #Trump #EPA OKs 'Emergency' to Dump Bee-Killing Pesticide on 16 Million Acres "emergency" approvals 2 sp… https://t.co/QNkcexUMP4— Food Democracy Now! (@Food Democracy Now!)1550605300.0
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.
- The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox! - EcoWatch ›
- Trump's USDA Suspends Honeybee Survey - EcoWatch ›
- EU Approves Ban on 'Bee-Killing' Neonicotinoids - EcoWatch ›
- Trump EPA OKs 'Emergency' to Dump Bee-Killing Pesticide on 16 ... ›
- Honey Bees Attracted to Glyphosate and a Common Fungicide ... ›
- Trump Gives Pen to Dow Chemical CEO After Signing Executive ... ›
- Democratic Bill Banning Toxic Pesticides Applauded as 'Much-Needed' Step to Protect Kids and Planet - EcoWatch ›
- Trump’s Toxic Wake: 10 Ways the EPA Has Made Life More Hazardous - EcoWatch ›
- 15 Organizations and Initiatives Helping to Save the Bees - EcoWatch ›
- Is Your Avocado Toast and Almond Milk Harming Bees? Maybe ›
- New Pesticides Will Modify Insect Genes: What Could Go Wrong? ›
The hives belonged to the Brazoria County Beekeepers Association, which had 24 colonies at the site in total. The hives were discovered burning early Saturday morning by a sheriff's deputy, who extinguished the flames. Some of the bee boxes had also been tossed into a pond on the site.
"It's bad enough to think in today's world this would happen, but dumping them over and then setting fire to them is beyond comprehension," the association wrote in a Facebook post. The club said it had offered a reward for the discovery of the perpetrator and asked anyone with information to contact the sheriff's office. "I broke down in tears when I saw a floating brood frame in the water with bees still caring for the brood," the post's author added.
The incident comes at a key time of year for honeybees and beekeepers: Blooming plants have started the bees' honey flow, and the queens were laying thousands of eggs a day, association President Steven Brackman told The New York Times.
Sam Degelia, a retired welder who earns extra money selling honey at the farmer's market, lost eight hives with around 60,000 bees each to the blaze.
"I don't want to say it's like losing a kid, but you put all your hard work and pride in it, and somebody kicks the bucket from under you," Degelia told The New York Times. "First there is the shock of losing the bees, and then you say, 'Well, there goes my honey flow.'"
In total, hives belonging to four owners were destroyed.
The fire also comes at a critical moment for honey bees overall. In 2017, U.S. beekeepers lost around 40 percent of their honey bees, 2.7 percent more than the average annual loss since 2010-2011, the Bee Informed Partnership found. Brackman told CNN that bees are declining due to the widespread use of pesticides, with potentially disastrous consequences for humans and the environment.
"Tomatoes, squash, watermelons, bees pollinate those," Brackman said. "So if bees don't pollinate those, you get zero vegetables, we would see next to nothing in the vegetable stores."
The Brazoria County Crime Stoppers is offering a $5,000 reward for the arsonist, and the association is offering $1,000. It is also taking donations to help beekeepers rebuild. As of Monday, it had raised more than $10,000, the Houston Chronicle reported. The remains of four hive structures had survived the fire, but no queens or eggs have been found, The New York Times reported.
Brackman told the Houston Chronicle that he at least hoped the bees had gotten in some parting shots. If they sense a hive is being disturbed, bee colonies will come to investigate, Brackman explained.
"We're hoping that's what happened to them actually," Brackman said. "Even though those bees would have had a hard time seeing you in the dark, they can detect the heat and hunt you down."
- Vandals Kill Tens of Thousands of Honeybees in Iowa - EcoWatch ›
- Fl. Homeowner Regrets Killing Thousands of Honeybees - EcoWatch ›
- At Least 1 Million Bees Found Dead in Cape Town - EcoWatch ›
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Beekeepers in and around Cape Town, South Africa are facing significant losses of their pollinators in recent weeks.
The mass deaths have been linked to an insecticide called fipronil that was likely incorrectly used by the area's wine farmers, according to media reports.
Brendan Ashley-Cooper, the vice-chairperson of Western Cape Bee Industry Association, told the BBC about 100 of his hives were affected and between 1 million and 1.5 million bees died.
"A week ago we started getting calls that beekeepers were finding dead bees in front of their hives. I came to inspect my bee site and found similar results and found thousands upon thousands of dead bees in front of a lot of my bee hives," the commercial farmer told South African broadcaster eNCA.
Millions of bees poisoned www.youtube.com
The beekeepers suspected that the area's wine farmers were spraying their vineyards with a mix of ant poison and molasses, the Weekend Argus reported last week.
Ashley-Cooper sent a sample of the mixture to a laboratory in Cape Town, which determined that fipronil was the main ingredient in the sample, the West Argus reported over the weekend. The wine farmers have since stopped using the pesticide.
Other area beekeepers lost hives, including Lawrence Woollam, who told the West Argus his business will be severely impacted after losing between 90 percent and 100 percent of his bees.
Fipronil is a broad-spectrum insecticide used to control ants, beetles, cockroaches, fleas, ticks, termites and other insects. It works by disrupting the central nervous system of invertebrates.
As the South African explained, the bees were likely attracted to the sweetness of the molasses. After ingesting the potent mixture, they brought it back to their hives and infected the rest of their colony.
Both wild and managed bee hives in Cape Town's southern areas were affected, Ashley-Cooper told the BBC.
Honey bees and wild bees are vital for crop pollination and are a critical part of our food system. One out of every three bites of food we eat is dependent on bees for pollination, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. However, bee populations are crashing around the world due to factors such as neonicotinoids, habitat loss and disease.
The Cape Town beekeepers, wine farmers and the government are now working together to find a solution to the problem. Further tests will be conducted to confirm whether the pesticide is to blame.
"The farmers have been very concerned about the bee die-off. We're having meetings with the farmers in the next couple of days to have a look if they have caused this problem and to see if we can find solutions," Ashley-Cooper told eNCA.
10 Things You Always Wanted to Know About #Neonics https://t.co/uRzBC3NlVx @NRDC @bpncamp @pesticideaction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1542060018.0
By Daniel Raichel
As massive numbers of bees and other pollinators keep dying across the globe, study after study continues to connect these deaths to neonicotinoid pesticides (A.K.A. "neonics"). With the science piling up, and other countries starting to take critical pollinator-saving action, here's a quick primer on all things neonics:
1. What are neonics?
Neonics are neurotoxic insecticides, meaning they are pesticides designed to kill insects by attacking their nerve cells. Neonics permanently bind to nerve cells, overstimulating and destroying them. Insects poisoned with neonics often exhibit uncontrollable shaking or twitching, paralysis, and—eventually—death.
Neonics are also "systemic," meaning they dissolve in water and are absorbed by plants, making the plant itself—including its nectar, pollen and fruit—toxic. Neonics are often applied as a "drench" to a plant's roots, or as a coating on a plant's seed, which the plant then soaks up as it grows. The levels applied can often be so high that they make the plant toxic to insects for years after the initial treatment.
2. Where are neonics used?
Everywhere. Neonics are the most popular insecticides in the U.S. and can be found in lawn and garden bug sprays, flea and tick treatments for pets and livestock, and food grown in farm fields across the country. As this map* shows, the neonic imidacloprid is used just about every place that people grow crops. And that's just the tip of the iceberg—the map doesn't account for non-agricultural uses (e.g., golf courses, lawns, gardens) or the four other neonic chemicals also extensively used in the U.S.
3. Do neonics harm bees?
Absolutely. Neonics are designed to kill insects, and bees are insects. A large and growing body of research shows that neonic use is a leading cause of the massive bee die-offs around the globe that threaten our food security, agricultural economy and environment. Bees at risk include not only commercial honey bees, but the more than 4,000 species of native bees that live in the U.S., like the rusty patched bumble bee or the bees seen here in every color of the rainbow.
4. Do neonics harm other wildlife?
Yes. Neonic use has been shown to cause significant losses of aquatic invertebrates, a critical food source to birds and fish. Neonic use has also been linked with documented losses of bird and butterfly populations.
5. Do neonics contaminate our water?
Yes. Neonics can persist in soil for a long time, where rain or irrigation water easily carries them into surrounding lakes, streams or sources for drinking water. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has found that neonics contaminate waterbodies nationwide, often at levels that harm critical aquatic insects and other wildlife. That's no surprise given how wastefully neonics are often applied. For example, when neonics are applied as seed treatment, only about 5 percent of the pesticide is absorbed by the plant at best—the other ~95 percent stays in the soil. And with up to 100 percent of conventional corn and 50 percent of soybean seed now treated with neonics, it's not hard to guess how they keep ending up in our water.
6. Are neonics in our food?
Yes. Neonic residues are found in 86% of honey in the U.S. and also in blueberries, cranberries, peaches and other foods popular with kids and adults alike. Because neonics are actually inside the fruit, vegetables, and other foods we eat, they can't be washed off.
7. Is there concern that neonics may be harming our health?
Yes. Neonics attack parts of insect nerve cells that are similar to those found in humans, making researchers and health experts concerned that what's bad for bees could be bad for us too. In particular, emerging research suggests that exposure to neonics in the womb or early in life could be linked with developmental defects, including autism, heart deformations, muscle tremors, and memory loss.
8. What is our federal government doing about neonics?
Not much. Several years back, the U.S. EPA introduced the "bee hazard" icon and limited restrictions for some neonic products, but these baby steps have failed to stem massive bee and pollinator losses. EPA has also long been studying the impacts of neonics through its "registration review" process. Although these reviews could result in life-saving protections for pollinators, don't hold your breath—EPA just quietly pushed back the deadlines for their completion, and isn't expected to take needed action anyway while still under Trump and Andrew Wheeler's direction.
9. What have other countries done?
A: Other countries are moving to ban outdoor uses of neonics. In 2018, The European Union voted to completely ban all outdoor uses of three neonics, citing their impacts to honey bees. Canada recently followed suit, recommending that the country similarly phase out all outdoor uses of the same neonics in 3-5 years.
10. What should replace neonics if we limited their use?
For the most part, nothing. Neonics are often used where they simply aren't effective. In 2014, EPA found that neonic soybean seed treatments "likely provide $0 in benefits to growers," yet up to half of all conventional soybean seed is still neonic-treated. Other recent research shows neonics to be similarly ineffective on corn, yet up to 100 percent of conventional corn seed gets a neonic treatment. These uses account for the vast bulk of neonics entering the environment and—since they don't work—they don't need replacing. Agroecological practices—like diverse crop rotations, cover cropping, and introducing natural enemies of crop pests (AKA "good bugs")—can eliminate the need for other neonic uses. In those instances where an insecticide is needed, less harmful substitutes for neonics are available.
*This map is from 2014, the last year USGS included neonic-treated seeds in its annual pesticide survey (even though treated seed usage has not diminished since). To understand how massive treated seed use is, compare this map to the 2015 map, and see the world of difference for yourself.
That is the warning issued by a study from the University of Exeter and the University of California, Berkeley published Friday in the Journal of Agricultural Research. The study found that 13 percent of U.S. honeybee keepers are at risk of losing their colonies from Zika spraying.
"A colony unexpectedly exposed to pesticide spraying for mosquitoes would almost certainly be wiped out," study lead author Lewis Bartlett of the University of Exeter's Center for Ecology and Conservation said in a university press release. "Beekeepers in the U.S. move their colonies around to support farmers, so a beekeeper with all their bees in one area at a given time could lose them all."
The study was prompted by 2016 reports that the spraying of an organophosphate pesticide to stop the spread of Zika in South Carolina killed millions of honeybees. At the time of the spraying, there had been 43 cases of Zika in the state, but none of them had been contracted from in-state mosquitoes. Residents said they were given less than 10 hours notice of the spraying.
Researchers wanted to see if other honeybee colonies could be impacted by similar incidents, so they compared data on the density of honeybee colonies with areas at risk from Zika. They found that the places best for the bees also had favorable conditions for virus that causes brain defects in unborn children. Those regions include Florida, the Gulf Coast and potentially California's Central Valley.
While Florida has a system in place to control mosquitoes while protecting bees and other pollinators, other states are less prepared. This could be devastating both for bees and their keepers.
"At the start of this research we spoke to a beekeeper who was caught unawares and lost all her bees," Bartlett said.
"Beekeeping is a very traditional way of life in the US, with a lot of pride in families who have done it for generations, but many are struggling now.
"Given all the threats facing bees, even a small additional problem could become the straw that broke the camel's back.
"Many beekeepers live on the breadline, and if something like this changes things so beekeeping is no longer profitable, there will be huge knock-on effects on farming and food prices."
Bartlett said he understood concerns about the spread of Zika, but that policymakers should conduct research before they jump into preventative spraying.
While the study only looked at non-native honeybees kept to help farmers, the researchers said that honeybees are actually more resilient than other species, so Zika spraying could also harm other pollinators.The study is also an example of the astounding ripple effects of climate change, which has been linked to the rapid spread of Zika.
A farmer in Iowa lost tens of thousands of honeybees and after vandals destroyed several hives on two separate occasions.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Grateful Acres Farm northeast of Des Moines said it found three of its strongest hives smashed by logs, bricks and cinder blocks. Each hive can hold up to 60,000 insects, the Des Moines Register reported.
The tops were knocked off the containers, exposing the bees to days of heavy rain and causing most of the insects to perish, according to
USA TODAY. The hives also held about 150 pounds of winter honey stores, which was left open for other bees in the area for the taking.
This is not the first time Iowa hives were targeted by vandals. Earlier this year, two boys, 12 and 13, were charged with killing more than a half million bees and causing between $50,000 to $60,000 in damages at a honey business in Sioux City.
Jake Knutson, who owns Grateful Acres Farm, suspects that kids are also to blame for his trashed hives. He did not contact the authorities at first because he did not want to see youngsters face potential criminal charges, the Des Moines Register reported.
But on Wednesday, Knutson said on Facebook that he filed a report with the police after finding another hive completely knocked over and another one teetering on the stand.
"That means whomever did this came back within the last day and a half with the intent to destroy them," he wrote. "The first time I guessed it was curious kids and I was just wanting to speak to their parents but after the recent incident I filed a police report and will prosecute when they find them."
The act cost an estimated $400 to $500 in damages, Knutson told the Des Moines Register. However, he said that the bigger loss was the time and effort it took to establish the hives and to build up the bees' genetics to withstand Iowa winters.
A friend of Knutson's created a GoFundMe to help the farm recoup the costs.
"We will be able to recover on our own it just sucks when you invest that kind of time and labor only to have some a holes destroy it all," Knutson wrote on Facebook. "Unfortunately this seems to be a growing trend so teach your kids about the important role bees play, seek out a bee keeper close to you and support them."
Bees are a precious natural resource—an estimated 35 percent of food production is dependent on pollination from the insects.
But declines in bee populations have been widely reported around the world in the past several decades. A report from the Center for Biological Diversity last year found that population levels of more than 700 North American bee species are declining due to a range of serious threats, including severe habitat loss and escalating pesticide use.
- Honey Bees Attracted to Glyphosate and a Common Fungicide ›
- Two Boys Charged With Killing Half a Million Honeybees in Iowa ›
The Center for Biological Diversity Thursday urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to deny Bayer CropScience's request to allow the highly bee-toxic pesticide flupyradifurone to be sprayed on tobacco in states like Kentucky and North Carolina.
Although flupyradifurone is known to harm pollinators like bees and freshwater invertebrates like mussels, the pesticide maker is asking the EPA to approve its use across more than 300,000 acres in areas that are home to more than three dozen protected species.
"Expanding use of this dangerous chemical will threaten many endangered species, as well as bees already battered by neonicotinoid pesticides," said Tara Cornelisse, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Pollinators and many aquatic invertebrates across the Southeast are already struggling. Approval of yet another highly toxic pesticide for tobacco will add to their toxic load and likely result in further losses."
Flupyradifurone is a systemic pesticide with the same mode of action—and potential for harm—as neonicotinoid pesticides, a leading cause of pollinator declines. While the pesticide industry has touted flupyradifurone as a replacement for neonicotinoid pesticides, it poses many of the same risks to non-target species as neonicotinoids.
For example, flupyradifurone impairs learning, memory and affinity for nectar rewards in honey bees. Further, flupyradifurone is highly water soluble and decreases the viability of freshwater mussel larvae; it also negatively impacts aquatic mayfly larvae survival at levels comparable to neonicotinoid pesticides like imidacloprid and clothianidin.
Because flupyradifurone's negative effects worsen with increased dosage, its use on tobacco would compound the harm already caused by widespread use of other neonicotinoids on corn and soy in tobacco-growing counties.
"Approval of this harmful neurotoxin would create a dangerous double-whammy for bees and freshwater mussels already suffering from exposure to neonics," said Cornelisse. "Expanded use of this harmful pesticide is a risk we can't afford to take."
Among the 38 threatened and endangered species living in areas where tobacco is grown are 17 species of freshwater mussels that play essential water-purifying roles in aquatic ecosystems.
The greatest amount of tobacco acreage under consideration for the pesticide's use is in North Carolina and Kentucky. Other areas include Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina.
Endangered freshwater mussel species that would face increased harm include the Georgia spinymussel, dwarf wedgemussel, rayed bean and orangefoot pimpleback.
In addition, flupyradifurone is likely to harm and kill native bees that are important for the pollination and survival of nine endangered flowering plants, including smooth coneflower and Short's bladderpod.
The Center for Biological Diversity and allies sued the EPA over its initial approval of flupyradifurone, challenging the agency's refusal to take common sense measures to protect endangered species from this new and controversial pesticide. This litigation is in its initial stages at the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals.
The period for public comment on the approval request ends on Friday. Although the EPA often approves new uses quickly, the agency has not established a timeframe for this approval process.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) exposed bees to glyphosate and found that it reduced the beneficial bacteria in their guts, making them more susceptible to disease.
"We need better guidelines for glyphosate use, especially regarding bee exposure, because right now the guidelines assume bees are not harmed by the herbicide," UT graduate student and research leader Erick Motta said in a UT press release. "Our study shows that's not true."
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday, exposed bees to glyphosate amounts that occur on crops and roadsides and then assessed their gut health three days later.
Of eight common gut bacteria, four were reduced following exposure to glyphosate. The exposed bees also had higher mortality rates when subsequently exposed to the widespread pathogen Serratia marcescens.
The study's authors wondered if glyphosate exposure could be a factor in the decline in U.S. bee populations and recommend that farmers and gardeners stop using glyphosate on flowering plants favored by pollinators.
"It's not the only thing causing all these bee deaths, but it is definitely something people should worry about because glyphosate is used everywhere," Motta said.
"Claims that glyphosate has a negative impact on honey bees are simply not true. No large-scale study has found any link between glyphosate and the decline of the honeybee population. More than 40 years of robust, independent scientific evidence shows that it poses no unreasonable risk for humans, animal, and the environment generally," a Monsanto spokesperson said in a statement reported by The Guardian.
RMIT University in Melbourne chemist Oliver Jones also expressed skepticism that the study meant glyphosate was actively harming bees in the environment.
"To my mind the doses of glyphosate used were rather high. The paper shows only that glyphosate can potentially interfere with the bacteria in the bee gut, not that it actually does so in the environment," he told The Guardian.
Other studies have shown that glyphosate can harm bees and other animals, however.
A study published in July found glyphosate exposure harmed bee larvae and another, published in 2015, found bees exposed to levels present in fields had impaired cognitive abilities that made it harder for them to return to their hives, The Guardian reported.
A further study of rats also showed glyphosate exposure harmed gut bacteria.
"This study is also further evidence that the landscape-scale application of large quantities of pesticides has negative consequences that are often hard to predict," University of Sussex Professor Dave Goulson told The Guardian.
Glyphosate's impact on human health has been in the news in recent months after a jury decided in favor of a California groundskeeper who claimed that Roundup exposure caused his cancer and ordered Monsanto to pay him $289 million in damages.Glyphosate is making its way into human guts too. A recent study found Roundup traces in popular oat-based snacks and cereals.
That's why a woman in Cape Coral in southwest Florida expressed regret after calling pest control to exterminate thousands of honeybees that swarmed her garage and SUV on Saturday.
"I just wish it could have been different," she told Fort Myers News-Press. "Bees are valuable. I wish I knew about free bee removal. I wouldn't have made the decision to kill them."
The homeowner admitted to the publication that she had "no idea what to do" and felt like she needed to act quickly when she made the call to pest control.
Sure, her action is a real tragedy, but how many of us would know what to do if in the same situation?
First of all, be assured that while a large swarm of honeybees in your home or car might be frightening, the bugs are generally docile so they likely won't harm you if not provoked.
Second, and most importantly, you should call a local beekeeper as soon as possible, not the exterminator. Beekeepers are invested in the survival of honeybees and can help remove your swarm without killing them—and they usually do it for little or no money.
You can contact a nearby beekeeping association or use this website to find a beekeeper near you. For instance, a cursory scan of beekeepers near my home in South Carolina shows dozens of free swarm removal services that will not harm the creatures and will incorporate them into their own apiaries.
Paul Shannon of Shannon Farms Honey in Buckingham told the Fort Myers News-Press that people should not be afraid of contacting beekeepers day or night.
"Beekeepers work all day every day," Shannon said. "Definitely contact them; pest control is always just going to exterminate the problem."
The Florida woman hopes her story will educate others about better options.
"I'm hoping these bees aren't going to die in vain," she said.
Why It’s Time to Curb Widespread Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticide https://t.co/bTMbSOwQev #pesticides #bees… https://t.co/mf98PDd0x1— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1530025727.0
- Two Boys Charged With Killing Half a Million Honeybees in Iowa ›
- Honey Bees Attracted to Glyphosate and a Common Fungicide ›
By Sam Schipani
"Save the bees" is a rallying cry we've been hearing for years now—one that conjures up images of fuzzy black and yellow honeybees, sipping nectar from colorful flowers or swarming with their bee brethren among tessellated combs while human defenders spread the word about dwindling bee populations. But honeybees are at no risk of dying off. While disease, parasites, and other threats are certainly real problems for beekeepers, the total number of managed honeybees worldwide has risen by 45 percent over the last half century.
"Honeybees are not going to go extinct," said Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society. "We have more honeybee hives than we've ever had and that's simply because we manage honeybees. Conserving honeybees to save pollinators is like conserving chickens to save the birds."
Contrary to public perception, die-offs in honeybee colonies are an agricultural problem, not a conservation issue. First domesticated about 9,000 years ago, honeybees are not all that different from livestock. They are also not native to the U.S.; they were imported from Europe to help pollinate crops around 1622.
Meanwhile, native bees—of which there are more than 20,000 species varying in size, shape and color—are experiencing incredible losses. Of the nearly 4,000 native bee species in the U.S. alone, four native bumblebee species have declined 96 percent in the last 20 years, and three others are believed to have gone extinct. In the last 100 years, 50 percent of Midwestern native bee species disappeared from their historic ranges.
Scott Black dates widespread confusion about exactly which bees are at risk to around 2006, when the news of commercial honeybee colonies decimated by colony collapse disorder hit fever pitch.
The plight of the honeybees was elevated in the national conversation, but since this was the first time that pollinators had entered the public consciousness (the country's nosediving monarch populations had not yet made national news), the issue lacked clarity or nuance. At the time, Black recalls well-meaning activists and politicians who were shocked to learn that there were other pollinators besides honeybees.
Juan P. Gonzalez-Varo, a scientist from the University of Cambridge, said that the "lack of distinction" in public understanding between the agricultural problems faced by honeybees and the biodiversity issues related to wild pollinators is also fueled by misguided charity campaigns and media reports. He cites campaigns like Greenpeace's S.O.S. Bees, which only features honeybees in its visual materials and lumps the issues facing wild bees and honeybees together under the umbrella of ecological conservation.
"They are doing many things right and they are raising awareness," said Gonzalez-Varo. "The problem is the misconception of the role of managed honeybees in ecosystems."
The national concern for honeybees led to an explosion in research on honeybee loss and the dangers posed to crops. But comparatively little research has been done to understand wild native pollinator declines. Honeybee research is generally easier than wild bee research, because many wild bees can't survive outside of the narrow slice of habitat that they've adapted to. "You can do many things in research with honeybees because it's a domesticated animal," said Gonzalez-Varo. "It's totally the opposite when you are dealing with wild pollinators, where you have to work with real landscapes and communities."
The lack of research into wild pollinators is especially problematic considering research that shows managed honeybees can negatively impact native bees. When they are not completing agricultural pollination jobs, commercial beekeepers often keep their honeybees on public land. Honeybees forage year-round, traveling for miles to gather pollen and nectar from wildflowers in areas that native bees rely on for food.
Wild species, which are often solitary and have shorter active seasons, cannot always compete with the sheer number of honeybees in commercial hives, especially in low-rainfall years when wildflowers are scarce. A study of wild bumblebee populations along the California coast, where managed honeybees are critical to pollinating almond orchards, found that an increase in honeybees in a particular area was correlated with a drop in bumblebees.
The problem with spillover goes beyond competition—diseases from commercial hives can be transferred to wild species when the populations feed from the same flowers. As with other intensively farmed animals, overcrowding and homogenous diets have increased the level of pathogens and parasites in managed honeybee colonies. Researchers have found elevated disease rates in wild bees living near greenhouses that use managed bees in Canada, Ireland and England. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the rusty patched bumblebee, which was listed as endangered in early 2017 after declining more than 90 percent over the last decade, may owe that disappearance to diseases spread by commercial bees.
This is bad news for both bees and crops. Even in the presence of honeybees, wild bees play a crucial role in agricultural systems, ensuring stable crop production, boosting yields, and pollinating crops, like tomatoes, that honeybees either avoid for lack of nectar, or have pollen that is difficult for honeybees to reach.
Raising public awareness about the risks that pesticides and loss of habitat pose to bees is a good thing, said Gonzalez-Varo. In the U.S., beekeepers now lose about 40 percent of their colonies each year, and some of that is due to factors that are also a problem to native bees, like pesticides, insecticides, and diseases. But real awareness would recognize that what is good for honeybees is not always good for wild pollinators. "The main change that I would like to see is that beekeeping is truly considered an extractive activity," he said. "Many other extractive activities are allowed in protected areas like hunting and cattle grazing, but all of them are regulated. Until now, conservationists have been very permissive with beekeepers."
While honeybees may not be in danger of extinction, their populations are far from robust. According to Nomi Carmona, a national online organizer at the Sierra Club who works with pollinators, honeybee populations may have nominally increased over the years, but those inflated populations are partly the result of controversial practices like hive-splitting, artificially inseminating honeybee queens, and feeding colonies with corn syrup to boost numbers before crops begin to bloom. These practices decrease the genetic diversity in commercially managed hives.
"I think people would be really disturbed to know how honeybees are being treated," said Carmona. "The situation could certainly benefit from clarification."
When it comes to differentiating between honeybees and wild bees, some "Save the Bees" campaigns have tried to right earlier wrongs. The Honey Nut Cheerios Bring Back the Bees campaign, came under fire last year for giving away seed packets that could spread non-native plants and displace food sources for wild bee populations. Since then, General Mills has donated to the Xerces Society and University of Minnesota bee scholar, Dr. Marla Spivak, to help research and restore wild pollinator habitat.
"Although the brand's famous spokesbee, BuzzBee, and his honeybee friends may not be in danger of extinction like some other pollinators, Honey Nut Cheerios is committed to helping all pollinators thrive," a spokesperson from General Mills wrote in an email to Sierra.
But there is more work to be done. For starters, campaigns to save the bees, whether they are run by international environmental organizations, cereal companies, or government entities, could feature the amazing diversity of bees instead of the pervasive (and often fallacious) honeybee. Gonzalez-Varo lauds campaigns like Toronto's Pollinator Protection Strategy, which proudly features a metallic green sweat bee (also Toronto's Official Bee) across its website's banner.
"As with many other environmental issues," said Gonzalez-Varo, "education is the key."
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
- How to Build a Native Bee Hotel ›
- Beyond Honey Bees: Wild Bees Are Also Key Pollinators, and Some ... ›
Two boys were charged with killing more than a half million bees at a honey business in Iowa last month.
"All of the beehives on the honey farm were destroyed and approximately 500,000 bees perished in the frigid temperatures," Sioux City police said in a release.
The suspects, a 12 and 13 year old, allegedly destroyed 50 hives at the Wild Hill Honey in Sioux City. The juveniles have been charged with criminal mischief, agricultural animal facilities offenses and burglary. Their names will not be released due to their age.
The felonies could result in fines as much as $10,000 and up to 10 years in jail, but criminal cases involving minors are typically adjudicated in juvenile court.
Wild Hill Honey owners Justin and Tori Englehardt called it a "senseless" act."
"They knocked over every single hive, killing all the bees. They wiped us out completely," Justin Engelhardt told the Sioux City Journal after the incident.
"They broke into our shed, they took all our equipment out and threw it out in the snow, smashed what they could. Doesn't look like anything was stolen, everything was just vandalized or destroyed."
"Bees are critical, and people are conscious of the fact that bees are having a hard time right now and facing some real challenges," Englehardt said.
A report from the Center for Biological Diversity last year found that more than North American bee 700 species are in trouble from a range of serious threats, including severe habitat loss and escalating pesticide use.
Bees are a precious natural resource—an estimated 35 percent of food production is dependent on pollination from the insects.
The Englehardt's losses were estimated between $50,000 to $60,000. The damage was not covered by insurance.
A fundraising campaign has raised thousands of dollars for the recovery. More than $30,000 has already been donated.
"Thank you to everyone for your generous contributions and your amazing show of support," a message from the Wild Hill owners states. "Because of you, we will be able to continue our business in the spring. We are deeply moved by your compassion. Between the contributions and the equipment we were able to salvage, our needs have been met. There are so many great causes to support. Our wish is that this spirit of compassion will be used to help others now. Thank you."
By Dan Nosowitz
All species evolve over time to have distinct preferences for survival. But with rapidly changing synthetic chemicals, sometimes animals don't have a chance to develop a beneficial aversion to something harmful.
New research from the University of Illinois indicates that honey bees—which are dying en masse—may actually prefer the taste of flowers laced with pesticides that are likely harmful. The study tested honey bee consumption of different sugar syrups, some plain and some with different concentrations of common pesticides. They found that while the bees didn't care for syrup with extremely high concentrations of pesticides, at low levels, the bees flocked to those pesticides.
Among the pesticides tested were the ever-controversial glyphosate, the most common pesticide in the U.S., which previous studies have also shown to be attractive to honey bees. Chlorothalonil, which is ranked as the 10th most commonly used fungicide in the U.S., usually on peanuts and potatoes, also proved to attract more honey bees. (The connection between fungicides and honey bee health is not that clear; studies suggest they are not in themselves highly toxic, but in combination with other factors can be dangerous).
The bees did not universally prefer adulterated syrups; the researchers note that they avoided prochloraz, a fungicide sold under the name Sportak. And of course, laced sugar syrup is not the same as a flower in the wild. Still, it's another alarming bit of news about our bees.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.