Testimony on pollinators and pesticides

By Luke Metzger
Director

Today I testified before the Texas Senate Natural Resources Committee about pollinator protection. Below is my testimony (you can also watch it online (I start at 4:54:45).  

Hello, my name is Luke Metzger and I am the Director of Environment Texas, a non-profit advocate for clean air, clean water and open spaces. I’m here to talk about the important role that pollinators play in our ecosystems, our food supply and our economy and to talk about the risks facing them. 

Recent analyses show that honey bees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America, and worldwide 87 of the leading 115 food crops are dependent on animal pollinators. As of 2014, pollinators contribute more than $24 billion to the United States economy annually of which honey bees account for more than $15 billion through their vital role in keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets.  Bees also provide much of the additional value by pollinating alfalfa, clover and other crops upon which dairy and meat production are dependent.  

The alarming decline in pollinator populations over the past few decades is well documented.  In recent years, beekeepers report they’re losing on average 30% of all honeybee colonies each winter — twice the loss considered economically tolerable. The Bee Informed Partnership notes that beekeepers across the United States lost 44 percent of their honey bee colonies during the year spanning April 2015 to April 2016, according to the latest preliminary results of an annual nationwide survey.  Texas Parks and Wildlife have identified 17 native bee species that are in great need for protection.

While a number of factors are impacting bee populations, including habitat loss and mites, scientists point to the increased use of and exposure to a class of pesticides known as neonics as a major cause of the recent increase in bee deaths.

When seeds are treated with neonics, the chemicals work their way into the pollen and nectar of the plants — which, of course, is bad news for bees and other pollinators. Worse, for the bees and for us, neonics are about 6,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT.

The magnitude of the problem and the great outpouring of public support to save the bees has led to major garden retailers such as Lowes and Home Depot phasing out sales of the chemicals, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has committed to phasing them out on the public lands they manage; and Seattle, Minnesota and Oregon have all agreed to take some form of action against neonics. 

My organization has been running a citizen outreach campaign to educate the public and build support for saving the bees by banning bee-killing chemicals. We’ve knocked on tens of thousands of doors and it’s clear that there is a lot of public support for saving our bees in Texas.

Texas Parks and Wildlife released a pollinator conservation plan in April and there’s some good stuff in it, including planting milkweed in state parks to help monarch butterflies. But more needs to be done.

a)      Ban any uses of neonics or other pesticides shown to have adverse impacts on bees or other pollinators (such as monarch butterflies)

b)      The state should stop using them themselves --- e.g. TxDOT shouldn’t spray along roadsides; or at the capitol

c)      Short of a ban, state should tighten up uses --- only used by folks who are trained;  only use when proven necessary; etc

d)     create more organic agricultural options; training programs for farmers etc; use state land to create more foraging opportunities for pollinators; grow more bee/butterfly friendly gardens on state property and encourage cities and other institutions to do the same

e)      And finally the state should make sure there is good accurate study and reporting every year --- on pollinator populations and on pesticide usage;  we want to see populations systematically going up and use of pesticides going down

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“These butterflies and their fellow pollinators, like bumblebees and hummingbirds, are not just lovely to look at, but they are absolutely essential for all Texas inhabitants, wildlife and citizens alike. They ensure the reproduction of flowering plants and the pollination of our food crops. We couldn’t have agriculture without pollinators like butterflies and bees.”

-         Laura Bush, Sep. 2016

“Pesticides are detrimental to a healthy community of native insect pollinators. Insecticides may not only kill insect pollinators, but sub-lethal doses can affect their foraging and nesting behaviors… For these and other reasons, the use of pesticides in areas managed for native insect pollinators should be avoided. Drift from pesticides applied on lands with alternate uses should also be minimized.”  

-         Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Management Recommendations for Native Insect Pollinators in Texas, 2016

“The Home Depot is deeply engaged in understanding the relationship of the use of certain insecticides on our live goods and the decline in the honey-bee population. We are encouraged by the improvements in the colony collapse disorder data and support the White House’s Pollinator Health Task Force. Our live goods suppliers have reduced the number of plants that they treat with neonicotinoids, so that now over 80% of our flowering plants are not treated with neonicotinoids… we will have a complete phase-out of neonicotinoid use on our live goods by the end of 2018.”

-         The Home Depot, December 2015