(Beyond Pesticides, May 3, 2016) In a bipartisan victory for bees, last week the Connecticut House of Representatives unanimously (147-0) passed a wide-ranging bill aimed at protecting declining pollinator populations within the state from toxic neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides. Bill No. 231, An Act Concerning Pollinator Health, was also passed unanimously (36-0) through the Connecticut State Senate on April 21, and now goes to Governor Dannel P Malloy for his signature. Earlier in April, both houses of the Maryland legislature passed the Maryland Pollinator Protection Act, which is currently awaiting action by Governor Larry Hogan (R).
Connecticut’s bill addresses a broad range of concerns relating to pollinator health, from pesticides to parasites and habitat remediation, within both residential and agricultural settings. In
summary, the bill does the following:
- Prohibits applying neonicotinoid insecticide (a) to linden or basswood trees or (b) labeled for treating plants, to any plants when such plant bears blossoms;
- Bee health experts identified the application of systemic neonicotinoids to Tilia trees as a significant concern for pollinator health after a spate of massive bee-kill incidents on the west coast. In June 2013, over 50,000 bumblebees were killed after a neonic was applied to a linden trees in Wilsonville and Hillsboro Oregon. In response, the Oregon Department of Agriculture implemented rules prohibiting certain neonic application to trees in the Tilia genus. Connecticut would be the first state on the east coast to implement similar restrictions.
- Requires the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) commissioner to classify certain neonicotinoids as “restricted use” pesticides;
- Designating neonicotinoid pesticides as “restricted use” within the state limits their purchase and use to certified pesticide applicators, and eliminates allowed consumer uses. In effect, Maryland’s Pollinator Protection Act seeks to accomplish the same goal by prohibiting the sale of neonicotinoids to consumers. Based on the inherent dangers these chemicals pose to pollinators at levels allowed under current label rates, Beyond Pesticides continues to believe a full suspension on the use of neonics is warranted.
- Requires the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (CDA) commissioner to develop best practices for minimizing the release of neonicotinoid insecticide dust from treated seeds;
- Neonicotinoid seed dust represents a significant risk to honey bees and other pollinators in close proximity to agricultural fields. A report from the American Bird Conservancy found that a single kernel of neonic-coated corn is enough to kill a songbird. While best practices are a step forward, stronger actions, like those taken in the Canadian province of Ontario to reduce acreage planted with neonic treated seeds by 80%, are warranted based on current available science.
- Requires the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) to develop a citizen’s guide to model pollinator habitat;
- Improving pollinator habitat in urban, suburban, and peri-urban communities is an important component of any plan to bring back pollinator health. State-sponsored public education programs on improving pollinator habitat are commendable. Beyond Pesticides has a number of resources, including Managing Landscapes with Pollinators in Mind and the BEE Protective Habitat Guide to get folks started on improving pollinator habitat in their community today.
- Establishes a Pollinator Advisory Committee to inform legislators on pollinator issues;
- Legislators should continue to be apprised of the latest science and research on pollinator health, as well as policies at the state and local level that are working to protect these critical species.
- Specifies that Connecticut Siting Council orders to restore or revegetate in certain rights-of-way must include provisions for model pollinator habitat; requires the DOT commissioner to plant vegetation with pollinator habitat, including flowering vegetation, in deforested areas along state highway rights-of-way.
- Right of way areas near roadsides, power lines, and other industrial sites areas are often maintained through the use of toxic pesticides. Revegetating these areas with pollinator-friendly plants that do not contain harmful insecticides will help provide needed forage for bees and other wild pollinators.
- Includes model pollinator habitat in any conservation plan CDA requires as part of its farm preservation programs;
- Addressing pollinator forage and habitat on agricultural land is a critical component of reviving pollinator health. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has invested over $7 million in assistance to Midwest farmers and ranchers in an effort to increase habitat. However, with studies showing the potential for field margins to be contaminated by neonics through runoff and drift, it is critical that these programs also encourage methods to eliminate the use of these persistent pesticides.
- Requires the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) to amend the state’s Plan of Conservation and Development to prioritize development with model pollinator habitat;
- Considering pollinators before development occurs is an excellent way to integrate protective efforts into landscapes. As part of federal efforts from the Federal Pollinator Task Force, the General Services Administration is reviewing pollinator friendly guidelines for facility standards at all new projects, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality has developed guidelines for integrating pollinator practices into federal facilities and federal lands. Ramping up this work at the state level is a good move for pollinators.
- Requires reports on (a) legislation needed to restrict or license planting neonicotinoid-treated seeds, (b) conditions leading to an increase in varroa mites, and (c) areas where the Department of Transportation (DOT) can replace turf grass with native plants and model pollinator habitat; and
- A report on treated seeds should investigate the potential to enact policy similar to Ontario’s. Research on conditions leading to a varroa mite increase could be helpful in determining the synergistic impact of the multiple pesticides, diseases, and to which pollinators are exposed. Further, exploring new ways to replace turfgrass with pollinator habitat and native plants is an important part of pollinator regeneration.
Connecticut’s bill includes actions that are important steps to reversing the decline of both native and domesticated pollinator populations. However, in order to effect a change in fortune for these important animals, more states and localities must act to restrict the wide range of pesticides shown to harm pollinators, as communities like Montgomery County have done. At the federal level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should immediately suspend the use of neonicotinoids as it completes its risk assessment on these chemicals. For more information on how to organize in your community, and what you can do right now to safeguard pollinator populations, see Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective webpage.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.