(Beyond Pesticides, April 12, 2017) Earlier this week, the Maryland General Assembly took action to protect pollinators found in designated state pollinator habitat by passing SB 386/HB 830, Pollinator Habitat Plans- Plan Contents- Requirements and Prohibition, with bipartisan support. With this bill, the legislature will require pollinator habitat plans developed by any state agency to be as protective of pollinators as the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s managed pollinator protection plan requires. This translates to prohibiting, with some exceptions, the use of neonicotinoid pesticides or neonicotinoid-treated seeds or plants on state land designated as pollinator habitat. The bill’s passage represents the third major legislative victory to protect bees and other pollinators coming out of Maryland in the past year.
Last spring, in a historic move, the Maryland legislature voted to become the first state in the nation to ban consumers from using products containing neonicotinoid pesticides, a class of bee-toxic chemicals that has been linked to the startling decline in bees and other pollinators around the world. The Maryland Pollinator Protection Act (Senate Bill 198/House Bill 211), which also received bipartisan support, stipulates that consumers will not be allowed to buy pesticide products containing neonicotinoids starting in 2018. However, the legislation’s reach does not extend to farmers, veterinarians, and certified pesticide applicators, who will still be permitted to apply the chemicals. The Maryland Pollinator Protection Act became law without Governor Larry Hogan’s signature.
“We are thrilled that Maryland is doing even more to protect our bees, birds, butterflies and other pollinators, which are so crucial to our food supply and environment,” said Bonnie Raindrop, legislative chair of the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, when asked about the most recent bill passing. “Having just lost all of my bee hives over the winter, I can say firsthand that the threat is real, and we need to do all we can to protect these essential creatures.”
The bill that passed this week serves as an amendment to the Pollinator Habitat Plans law, passed in 2016, and requires the State Highway Administration and Maryland’s Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Services to establish a pollinator habitat plan for any lands they own or manage. Because habitat loss is one factor, along with pesticide use and disease, contributing to pollinator declines, providing comprehensive guidance and oversight to the state agencies charged with protecting pollinators is an important step in improving pollinator health. The amendment seeks to ensure that designated state pollinator habitats are not maintained using pesticides labeled as toxic to pollinators, a requirement that was not outlined in the original bill. The bill allows exceptions for public health emergencies and gives state agencies freedom to designate which of their lands are protected pollinator habitat and which are not. Environmental activists who worked on getting the amendment passed felt it was a necessary technical clarification to uphold the intent of the original law.
“Keeping state pollinator habitats free of certain toxic pesticides will help bees and other pollinators survive and thrive in our state,” said Ruth Berlin, executive director of the Maryland Pesticide Education Network. “We had to make sure that state pollinator habitats would not end up harming the very species we were trying to protect. We are so thankful to all our legislative champions, and we look forward to Governor Hogan signing the bill into law.”
The bill now moves to Governor Larry Hogan’s desk to be signed in to law, a necessity that is not without challenge. Last year after lawmakers approved the Pollinator Protection Act, there was still some fear by activists that the bill could be killed with a veto from the state’s republican governor, who remained skeptical of the connection between neonicotinoid pesticides and pollinators despite an overwhelming amount of research demonstrating that neonicotinoids play a critical role in the ongoing decline of bees and other pollinators. However, instead of vetoing the legislation the governor left the bill unsigned, allowing it to become law without his outright support.
Maryland bees continue to die at alarming rates. Maryland beekeepers lost 56 percent of their hives last year, which follows a 61 percent loss in 2015. Experts say annual losses beyond 15 percent are unsustainable for beekeepers. The federal government has taken similar precautions against toxic pesticides. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service phased out neonic use, and it is now prohibited on national wildlife lands. The National Pollinator Health Strategy, which provides guidance for designed landscapes, advises that “chemical controls that can adversely affect pollinators should not be applied in pollinator habitats” and federal facilities use seeds and plants that do not contain systemic insecticides.
To ensure that the most recent pollinator legislation becomes law, if you are a Maryland resident click here to email Governor Larry Hogan and ask him to support the Pollinator Habitat Plans- Plan Contents- Requirements and Prohibition bill.
Proactive state and local steps to address the issue of pollinator decline is critical in the absence of federal action. Beyond Pesticides has long advocated a regulatory approach that prohibits toxic pesticide use and requires alternative assessments. Farm, beekeeper, and environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, have urged the Environmental Protection Agency to follow the European Union’s lead and suspend the huge numbers of other bee-harming pesticides already on the market. We suggest an approach that rejects uses and exposures deemed acceptable under risk assessment calculations, and instead focuses on safer alternatives that are proven effective, such as organic agriculture, which prohibits the use of neonicotinoids. See Bee Protective to learn how you can help.
Source: Smart on Pesticides Maryland Press Release
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.