In the absence of federal action from the EPA, cities are beginning to take it upon themselves to ban neonic pesticides – a major cause for the frightening decline of pollinators such as bees.
In an unanimous vote, Portland, Oregon decided to phase out the use of these pesticides on all city land by 2017, and will stop purchasing any plants from commercial nurseries that are treated with neonicotinoids.
Last year, Eugene, Oregon was the first city to ban them. Since then, bans have been passed in Seattle and Spokane, Washington and Shorewood, Minnesota, and other cities and states will likely follow.
While these pesticides were developed for use on GMO corn and soy crops, they have spread to be among the most widely used treatment, even on your average garden plants.
Today, neonicotinoid residues can be found in the pollen and nectar of typical urban plants, from pumpkins to wildflowers and even trees, says Vera Krischik, a University of Minnesota entomologist.
"If it’s above 10 ppb, they can’t remember how to get back to the hive," she says. "All the urban uses are way higher than 10 ppb and are killing everything that feeds on pollen and nectar, including ladybird beetles, green lacewings, and parasitic wasps" (beneficial insects that eat pests).
Neonics are slow to degrade, causing them to accumulate in the environment and endanger many species, including birds.
The federal Fish and Wildlife Service will ban their use at national wildlife refuges sometime this year.
EPA Budges A Bit
EPA is under lots of pressure, including lawsuits, to ban neonics (as Europe has) until research shows they are as benign as their proponents claim. Ontario beekeepers are taking the manufacturers to court.
This week, EPA said it would not to approve any new uses of neonics until its research is completed on the risks to pollinators. This doesn’t affect neonics already on the market.
In the past year, EPA approved two new neonics, expanded their use to more crops, as well as the amounts that can be applied to crops … unbelievable.
Scientists believe that 20% loss of biodiversity is the tipping point for ecosystems’ ability to function.
"For example, as biodiversity declines, outbreaks of crop pests become more likely. We can spray crops and spend money to reduce that risk but that is basically compensating for something that biodiversity used to provide on its own," says Andy Purvis, lead scientist on research published in Nature.
Last year, President Obama directed federal agencies to "reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels" of bees, birds, bats, and butterflies – as "critical contributors to our nation’s economy, food system, and environmental health."