One day last summer I found a dead bee in my driveway. A few weeks later I found another one. Since this had not happened before, I wondered whether I was inadvertently responsible.
It might have been the fertilizer-pesticide combination product I was using on my rosebushes. It contained imidacloprid, one of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids or neonics. Imidacloprid is said to be the most widely used pesticide in the world. I’m not using it any more.
Nationwide, bees are dying in record numbers from a condition called Colony Collapse Disorder, a term that suggests nobody knows what’s causing it. Environmental groups such as EnvironmentNewMexico.org claim neonics are a major culprit. They say these chemicals are 6,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT. According to a study from Pennsylvania State University, neonicotinoids used at current levels don’t kill bees suddenly from a single exposure. The danger is repeated exposure over a long period of time.
The neonicotinoid family includes acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. The European Union has banned some of them. In September 2015, a US federal court banned another neonic called sulfoxaflor, finding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had relied on “flawed and limited” data in approving it.
Bees are necessary to human food production, so this is an environmental threat we can’t afford to ignore.
New Mexico is home to numerous backyard beekeepers – there isn’t an official number – and six commercial apiaries, according the New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA), which licenses the commercial operations.
The state’s beekeepers’ association (nmbeekeepers.org) has more than 1,000 people on its mailing list. The Albuquerque association, ABQ Beeks, has more than 1,200 members and holds monthly meetings where 60 to 100 people typically show up. There are also beekeepers’ groups in northern and southern New Mexico, and a plethora of conferences, websites and newsletters.
The measured economic value of commercial beekeeping, according to NMDA, was $908,000 from sales of honey in 2014 and about $350,000 in 2015-16 for shipping bees to California for pollination. There are no figures for sales of honey at farmers’ markets from backyard operations. The commercial value of pollinating crops in New Mexico is recognized but not measured. Bee pollination is essential, NMDA says, to apples, pumpkins and melons.
According to spokesperson Katie Goetz, NMDA advocates neither for nor against pesticide use but does monitor and enforce existing laws. “Our job in the realm of pesticides is to ensure that if/when a pesticide product is used, it’s used in accordance with the law,” she said.
The agency implements the Driftwatch program, which allows beekeepers to register their locations as sensitive areas on a map, so pesticide applicators can avoid them. New Mexico State University is doing research on plants that support pollinators at its center in Los Lunas.
The 2016 legislature enacted Senate Memorial 103, which, among other provisions, encourages state agencies to select bee-friendly plants in their landscaping. The memorial forgot to mention – but I hope landscapers realize — that those plants should not be treated with products that kill the bees.
The Albuquerque group is asking the city to adopt a Bee City designation, which would involve developing an integrated health-conscious pest management program.
Growing flowers that attract bees while inadvertently loading the flowers with poisonous pesticides is a little like using tainted meat to poison the neighbor’s dog. Now that you know, you probably won’t want to do it.
You can do something for bees by planting a few of the flowers and shrubs that feed them and avoiding the pesticides that kill them. Nmbeekeepers.org has links to helpful information including lists of plants. You might start by reading the labels on the fertilizer and pesticide products you own and getting rid of some of them.