Delaware Pollinator Protection Plan, Like Other State Plans, Fails to Eliminate Bee-Toxic Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, December 8, 2016) On Monday, the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA) released its Managed Pollinator Protection Plan, which allows for the continuation of widespread pesticide use in landscapes across the state. The plan includes voluntary strategies for farmers, beekeepers, landowners and pesticide applicators, but fails to include any recommendations for reducing or eliminating toxic pesticide use. DDA resorts to recommending approaches that include “best management practices,” strategies to increase pollinator forage on public and private lands, and advocating for the use of Driftwatch, an online initiative that focuses on pesticide drift. Driftwatch is a voluntary effort run by the non-profit, Fieldwatch, which, according to its website, was created by Purdue University Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Agricultural Communications departments and Purdue University Cooperative Extension Specialists “to help pesticide applicators and specialty crop growers communicate more effectively to promote awareness and stewardship activities to help prevent and manage drift effects.”
Like other state pollinator protection plans, there is little mention of pesticides, despite the fact that neonicotinoids (neonics) are highly toxic, persistent and systemic pesticides that have been widely implicated as a leading factor in pollinator decline. According to environmentalists and beekeepers, little meaningful action has been taken to address pesticide impacts on pollinators, and industry groups have been working to weaken and derail pesticide reforms at state and local levels that may protect pollinators.
Delaware’s plan follows the White House release in 2015 of the National Strategy to Promote Pollinator Health, which includes the Pollinator Research Action Plan and the Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices for Federal Lands. The Strategy outlines several components, such as a focus on increased pollinator habitat, public education and outreach, and further research into a range of environmental stressors, including systemic neonicotinoid pesticides. The Strategy ultimately contradicts itself by encouraging habitat, but continuing to allow pesticides that contaminate landscapes. This failure to address to one of the underlying causes of pollinator decline, systemic pesticide use, is all too common at the federal and state level.
A major component of Delaware’s plan is the creation and maintenance of habitat and forage for pollinators. It states that, “It is important to consider diversity when choosing plants to ensure adequate forage for the entire growing season.” It continues, “Diversity will also ensure pollinators have access to all of the nutrients they require to be healthy.”
Insecticide and fungicide-coated seeds are among the most popular method in chemical-intensive agriculture and landscaping of controlling target insects or fungal diseases, accounting for the vast majority of seeds for major crops and ornamental plants in the U.S. However, coated seeds result in the poisoning of nectar, pollen, and guttation droplets and indiscriminate poisoning of pollinating and foraging organisms. The sourcing of seeds uncoated with toxic pesticides and the plants needed for pollinator nutrition is absent from DDA’s plan, a problem that is shared by the other state plans.
Without restrictions on the use of neonics, pollinator habitat and forage areas are at risk for pesticide contamination and provide no real safe-haven for bees and other pollinators.
Beyond Pesticides encourages state and federal agencies to adopt organic management practices that are inherently protective of pollinators. Additionally, Beyond Pesticides and its allies have called for suspensions on neonicotinoid pesticides, particularly the most widely used and toxic: imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. These pesticides are used most commonly in corn and soybean seed treatment, where they remain in plant tissues, including pollen and nectar, for long periods of time.
The Delaware Pollinator Plan promotes the importance of pollinators and the impact their dwindling numbers will have on U.S. agriculture. Delaware growers produce many crops which require insect pollination, including watermelons, cucumbers, strawberries, cantaloupes, apples, blueberries, cranberries, squash, and pumpkins. According to the Pollinator Protection Plan, the production of watermelons and cucumbers “requires between 2500-3000 bee colonies to be brought into the state to maximize pollination of these crops. In addition to the colonies brought in for production, Delaware has approximately 173 registered beekeepers who manage 1500 resident hives.”
However, unless systematic pesticide contamination is addressed in state and federal pollinator plans, bees, both wild and managed, and other pollinator species will continue to be adversely affected. As noted in the text of the Delaware Managed Pollinator Protection Plan, the plan is a working document and DDA plans to “periodically update this document to reflect current working conditions and regulatory requirements.”
In the absence of federal action, some states are limiting the use of toxic, systemic neonic pesticides. In August 2016, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton issued an Executive Order aimed at reversing pollinator decline in the state by limiting the use of toxic, systemic neonicotinoid (neonics) pesticides. Minnesota’s state-level actions are in large part due to a groundswell of local advocacy that has succeeded in protecting pollinators. Sixteen localities in Minnesota, including its largest city Minneapolis and its capital St. Paul, have passed resolutions restricting the use of neonics by its local government. It is crucial that Delaware and other states follow the lead of Minnesota and move to properly protect pollinators.
In light of the shortcomings of state and federal agencies to protect these vital organisms, it is left up to advocates to ensure that we provide safe havens for pollinators by creating pesticide-free habitat and educating others to do the same. You can declare your garden, yard, park or other space as pesticide-free and pollinator friendly. It does not matter how large or small your pledge is, as long as you contribute to the creation of safe pollinator habitat. Sign the pledge today! Need ideas on creating the perfect pollinator habitat? The Bee Protective Habitat Guide can tell you which native plants are right for your region. For more information on what you can do, visit our BEE Protective page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.