The Colorado legislature has passed a bill banning the sale of bee-damaging pesticides at garden centers and hardware stores, broadening an effort to bolster the beleaguered family of species that’s key to plant life but whose abundance is threatened in the West.
Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign the bill that limits sale of pesticides based on chemicals called neonicotinoids only to pesticide dealers, banning them from the retail stores that service yards and landscapes across Colorado. Sponsors and environmental advocates hope Senate Bill 266 will help slow the decline of Colorado’s bee varieties, which are the fifth-richest in all the U.S. states, by cutting use of chemicals that disorient and disrupt intricate bee behavior.
Here’s the problem with neonicotinoids or “neonics,” and some updates on what Colorado bee defenders are doing to support bees in the state.
What’s wrong with using pesticides and weed killers in my yard?
Bees punch way above their size in nature, spreading pollen that encourages plant growth, from flowers to vegetables to vital field crops, all around the world. Bee populations have collapsed in recent years from development encroaching on their homes and foraging grounds, drought and climate change, pesticide use and outbreaks of tiny mites that wreck hives.
Colorado is home to more than 900 varieties of bees — yes there are that many beyond the “honey” and the “bumble.” But bumblebee populations, for example, have fallen more than 72% in the southern Rocky Mountains, according to study statistics shared by bill advocate CoPIRG.
Neonicotinoids are added to many agricultural and household pesticides, and are also used to coat bioengineered seeds to kill ground pests that would otherwise destroy crops. Many insects exposed to the chemicals — not just the “bad” ones — “exhibit uncontrollable shaking and twitching followed by paralysis before eventually dying. Even at nonlethal doses, neonics can weaken critical functions, such as an insect’s immune system, navigation, stamina, memory, and fertility,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
What crops depend on bees, besides flowers?
The list is long, but farmers and producers would find it impossible without bees to raise melons, tomatoes, alfalfa hay, apples, Palisade peaches, pumpkins, broccoli, almonds and more. About one-third of the products Americans eat come from bee-pollinated crops, the FDA says.
How will this Colorado bill help?
Senate Bill 266 directs the state Department of Agriculture to classify neonics as “a limited-use pesticide that can only be sold by licensed pesticide dealers,” backers say. Retailers couldn’t sell them to the general public. Some of the big box retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s have already announced plans to phase out products with neonics.
“This will essentially get those neonics that are going to be used on gardens and outdoor spaces off the shelves, where a lot of people are going right now to buy stuff to put into their gardens,” CoPIRG’s Danny Katz said.
The bill’s prime sponsors are all Democrats: Sens. Kevin Priola, of Henderson, and Sonya Jaquez Lewis, of Boulder County, and Reps. Kyle Brown, of Louisville, and Cathy Kipp, of Fort Collins.
Colorado would be the ninth state to enact such limits, and the first outside the East Coast states, Katz said. Finally, we’re ahead of California!
After Polis’ signature, the new rule must be adopted by Jan. 1.
What do Colorado beekeepers think?
Many Colorado beekeeping advocates agree that consumers might need a little nudge from the government in avoiding reaching for the pesticides and herbicides as soon as they see a dandelion pop up in the yard.
“The bees that are attracted to the flowers wind up picking it up, take it back to the hive, and it just kind of spreads and it has an adverse effect on their ability to forage and to some degree their ability to breed,” said Mike Halby, who has four hives and is active in the Pikes Peak Beekeepers Association.
Halby, though, thinks teaching homeowners is as important as regulation.
“It’s more of an educational issue to let people know the adverse effect of pesticides,” he said. He’s not sure who will enforce a consumer sales ban. “Education is the key.”
What can gardeners do to help the bee population?
Check out this list of bee-friendly plants and practices, for one thing, from Denver Urban Gardens.
Consider adding a hive to your outdoor activities, bee advocates add. There are plenty of formal and informal networks in Colorado teaching people how to become beekeepers. Beekeepers love to help, and will do anything from teach you how to capture a swarm in the wild to treating hives for viruses and parasites. About 35 people are signed up for a spring class Halby helps teach.
For geographic and genetic diversity, it’s far better for a thousand people to start up one hive than for one business to add 1,000 hives, Halby said.
As for those dreaded dandelions?
“Do what I do, which is leave them alone in the spring, because they are an early source of pollen and nectar for the bees,” he said. “And then pick dandelions in the summer. It gives you something to do when you don’t have anything else going.”