Bumblebee populations continue to decline

Published on Wed, Jun 26, 2013 by Kelle Rankin Sunter

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Bee lovers everywhere celebrated around the country as National Pollinator Week (June 17 – 23) was highlighted with educational events. However, during this same week, in an almost paradoxical twist of fate, more than 50,000 bumblebees were found dead and dying in a Target parking lot in Wilsonville, Oregon thought to be due to use of the pesticide dinotefuran, sold under the trade name Safari. 

The label clearly states that the pesticide should not be used while plants are flowering to prevent harm to pollinators, but the 
incident highlights the casual attitude that both consumers and the government have regarding pesticide use.

Pollinators include a large spectrum – birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals and most importantly, honeybees. They are required for the pollination of nearly a third of food we eat and the estimated global value of crops pollinated by bees is nearly $217 billion. 

Over the past decade we have seen troubling declines in the populations of these valuable workers with both commercial honeybees and native pollinators. 

Commercial beekeepers have been reporting population declines in their hives of 30 to 40 percent annually. The extent of damage to native pollinators is unknown; however, estimates for some species are as high as 90 percent mortality. Most of Europe has recently banned the highly touted “safe” insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, which were introduced in the early 1990s, because of research indicating that they are the primary reason for honeybee population declines.

“National Pollinator Week is a time to raise awareness about the importance of bees, birds and other pollinator species to agriculture, forest and grassland environments and other ecosystems,” said agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack. 

“I encourage all Americans to learn about the important work that is being done to conserve, protect and restore their habitats, and more importantly, to join in and help take steps to support healthy pollinator populations – many that can be done in your own backyard.”

Learning more about pollinators and how to protect them is as essential as the food provided to us through their hard work. Clearly, we are dependent on the “unseen 99 percent” of life on our planet – the insects. Instead of trying to kill them, we should be learning how to live together successfully. Applying healthy gardening principles in your own backyard is a start. Follow up by encouraging your legislators to support more research into pollinator declines.

Blaine CORE has been offering classes in raising backyard orchards and mason bees for four years. Please visit our website at nwCORE.org/pollinators to find printed materials and resources, or attend one of the presentations at the Birch Bay State Park on July 12 (Mason Bees 101) or August 18 (Backyard Habitat for Pollinators), provided free to the public by Friends of Birch Bay State Park, fobbsp.org.