Bees, the Pollinators

This special blog edition features two articles. The first describes the threats our U.S. government is posing to bees – which actually threatens our ability to pollinate the plants that produce the food we need.  The second report, from a British source, details specific actions we can take to help the bee populations.

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Trump EPA OKs ‘Emergency’ Use of Bee-Killing Pesticide on 13.9 Million Acres

 

Jordan Simmons

EcoWatch

Jun. 25, 2019

 

More than 40 percent of insects could go extinct globally in the next few decades. So why did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week OK the ’emergency’ use of the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor on 13.9 million acres?

EcoWatch teamed up with Center for Biological Diversity via EcoWatch Live on Facebook to find out why. Environmental Health Director and Senior Attorney Lori Ann Burd explained how there is a loophole in the The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act under section 18, “that allows for entities and states to request emergency exemptions to spraying pesticides where they otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to spray.”

In a press release sent to EcoWatch, the Center for Biological Diversity stated:

 

The approval includes 2019 crops of cotton

and sorghum in Alabama, Arkansas, Califor-

nia, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri,

Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Ten of the 11 states have been granted the

approvals for at least four consecutive years

for the same “emergency.” Five have been gi-

ven approvals for at least six consecutive years.

 

If an occurrence is happening six years in a row, does that justify an emergency? Burd said …

 

“This administration has been grossly

abusing this exemption to allow the use

of this one pesticide called sulfoxaflor

on a vast acreage year after year.”

 

Our biodiversity is at serious risk. For example, in Texas — where 5.8 million acres got emergency exemption to spray — more than 800 native bee species and eight species of bumblebees reside. It is also an important migration route for monarch butterflies. Burd said …

 

“Monarch butterflies and eight species of

bumblebees do overlap with Texas counties

where there is sulfoxaflor spraying. Even at

subacute, very low doses, sufoxaflor will have a

very dramatic effect on bumblebee reproduction.”

 

The purpose of sulfoxaflor is to kill insects.

Farmers have only gotten away with spraying sulfoxaflor because they were granted emergency. The EPA has not approved the lethal insecticide sulfoxaflor to be used on sorghum because it is known to attract bees. At one point the EPA did allow the use of sulfoxaflor on cotton, however the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the approval — the result of a lawsuit brought to them by beekeepers.

In a summary following the vacated approval in 2015, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit published conclusions:

 

The panel held that because the EPA’s decision

to unconditionally register sulfoxaflor was

based on flawed and limited data, the EPA’s

unconditional approval was not supported by

substantial evidence. The panel vacated the

EPA’s unconditional registration because

given the precariousness of bee populations,

leaving the EPA’s registration of sulfoxaflor

in place risked more potential environmental

harm than vacating it.

 

Criticism has been raised by the fact-checking resource Snopes on the grounds that it is misleading to imply that Trump is the only one who’s approved emergency exemptions for sulfoxaflor. EcoWatch asked the Center for Biological diversity to respond. Burd said …

 

“This is not a new problem. This has been

going on for six consecutive years and we

have not been in the Trump administration

for six consecutive years.”

 

So, yes, Trump’s EPA did this, but Burd said …

 

“This is by no means a new problem. Our

pesticide registration and approval process

is fundamentally broken. EPA’s pesticide

office is captured by industry and they are

not doing their jobs protecting human health

and the environment from these pesticides.”

 

EcoWatch asked Burd if there anything the public can do to stop these emergency approvals and prevent the use of toxic pesticides.

Burd suggested EcoWatchers consider signing a petition “demanding that Trump’s EPA stop rubber-stamping ’emergency’ uses of pesticides that wreak havoc on our environment.”

EcoWatchers can also help by getting involved with various groups working to protect the environment, choosing organic, refusing the use of pesticides at home, talking about not using them at work or at a homeowners association, supporting local ordinances going after pesticide issues, voting often or early and planting pollinator friendly gardens in rural and urban environments.

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Create a buzz: how to help save wild bees – even if you don’t have a garden

 

With a little knowhow, balconies, doorsteps and

window boxes can all be turned into wildlife havens

 

Kate Bradbury

The Guardian

22 Jun 2019

 

Last year’s extreme weather meant a tough year for many of the UK’s bees, and conservationists are concerned that could have a knock-on effect this year and beyond. According to a report from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, they could face long-term problems from future heatwaves. But we can give them a helping hand.

You don’t need to keep honeybees to help bees – in fact, a 2018 study commissioned by Cambridge University suggests that this can harm wild bees. It’s thought that the more bees there are in an area, the more competition there is for nectar and pollen; if every shopping centre has three or four hives on the roof, what does that mean for the wild bees?

It would be easy to assume that our built-up towns and cities are deserts for pollinators. Yet among the grey is also green: parks, gardens, balconies, doorsteps and window boxes, each with the potential to feed a city of bees. In fact, urban spaces can, in some instances, be better for bees and other pollinators than the countryside, where wildlife has largely been pushed out to make space for more crops and livestock.

Gardens and parks are home to a greater variety of flowering plants than in the wild, and for a longer season, too. What’s more, we’re less likely to use pesticides in them, enabling bees and other pollinators to feed safely. Indeed, a study published last summer in the journal Proceedings Of The Royal Society B found that bumblebee colonies in urban areas were actually stronger than those in the wild.

Most bees are solitary: in the British Isles there are about 267 species of bee; of those, 220 species of wild bee are solitary. These nest individually; the male and female mate then the female finds somewhere to lay her eggs. She makes a series of cells, in which she lays an egg on a “cake” of pollen and nectar, and then, coming to the end of her life cycle, she dies, leaving her young to feed themselves on the stores she has left for them. Some nest in the ground, in lawns or sandy borders. Others nest in cavities, such as walls, old plant stems and holes in dead wood. Many survive in urban areas.

Wild bees include 25 species of bumblebee, which, like the honeybee, live in a colony led by a queen: she largely stays in the nest while her workers forage for nectar and pollen to feed the grubs. Nests are annual, and you may be lucky enough to find one beneath a shed or hedge. The tree bumblebee nests in bird boxes.

To help wild bees, you don’t need to buy loads of kit. You don’t even need a garden. The first thing to do is grow as many flowering plants as you can cram into your outdoor space. All bees need nectar and pollen, both to feed themselves and their young. Some emerge from hibernation as early as February, while others wait until September. Therefore, growing flowering plants from February to November is key. Grow crocus and primrose in spring, lavender in summer, and Verbena bonariensis and echinacea in autumn.

The second thing to do is to create nesting habitats. If you have a garden, start a compost heap, or let an area of grass grow long, and leave twigs and leaf litter to accumulate at the back of your borders. Bumblebees might make a nest or even hibernate here. You could also erect a bee hotel – a box designed to mimic the cavities in which some solitary bees nest – in a garden, balcony or doorstep.

If we make all our green spaces bee friendly, we will help tackle the extinction crisis head on.

 

Five species to help this summer

 

Leafcutter solitary bees

 There are several species of leafcutter bee (Megachile species). They nest in cavities, such as old plant stems and holes in dead wood, but will readily use bee hotels. They use pieces of rose and wisteria leaf to line their nests. To attract them, grow old roses (with floppy leaves), such as gallica roses, and sweet peas and knapweeds. Flies June to August.

 

Wool carder solitary bees

 This distinctive bee (Anthidium manicatum) has black with yellow spots down each side of its abdomen. The female nests in bee hotels higher up than other species, so you may entice them in if you live in a high rise. The female lines her nests with hairs from furry leaves, such as lambs’ ear. Grow these and mullein to attract them. Flies June to August.

 

Red mason solitary bees

 Another cavity nester, this rusty orange bee (Osmia bicornis) lines its nest cells with mud. It’s thought to be about 125 times more efficient at pollinating apple blossom than the honey bee. Grow fruit trees and catmint to attract them. Flies April to early July.

 

Buff-tailed bumblebees

 This large, black and yellow species (Bombus terrestris) with a buff or white tail nests underground in old mouse holes, beneath sheds. Nests are annual and founded by the queen, who might have about 150 workers in summer. Grow lavender, alliums and cornflowers to attract them. Flies March to November.

 

Tree bumblebees

 Ginger, white and black, the tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) specialises in nesting high up, and seems to have a preference for bird boxes. Grow daisy-type flowers, such as single dahlias or chamomile to attract them. Flies March to July.

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The blog has sufficient data on the seriousness of the problem and specific actions you can do, on an individual basis, to alleviate it.

Now, why is this all so important?

First … in history, many civilizations have vanished owing primarily to their inability to feed their people. The most critical aspect of “sustainability” is our ability to feed ourselves.  Previously, if one civilization collapsed, others – in other geographies – were able to continue. Now, however, we’re living in a single global civilization.

Second … we tend to not respond to problems until we feel them, personally.  I liken the situation to going down a river in a boat and being told that there’s a huge waterfall coming soon. Some think it’s around the very next bend, some think it’s further off, and some think the waterfall is either a myth or, if it’s real, is simply not all that dangerous.  We can readily beach our boat and hike along the shore – though that requires additional effort and may not be as pleasurable as enjoying our river cruise. But …

If we decide to chance it, then come around a bend and not only become suddenly aware of a giant waterfall in front of us, but are swept into a rapid current that prevents us from getting to the shore … it’s too late.

The world has always had pockets of food shortages and even starvation. And when that’s happened, those with abundance would try to help those without. Today, it’s different.

Last week, one of India’s largest cities ran out of water. The Himalayas have provided a decreasing flow of water for some time now, due to climate change. Without investing sufficient resources to address that problem, the city actually ran dry. Not “sort of dry” or “needing water rationing” but dry!

Other reports indicate how India and China and North Korea are having crop failures.  India and China are over half the world’s population!  While we might still be able to go to a supermarket and see shelves dripping over with all kinds of foods, how long do you think it will be until the problem hits where you are? And by then – as with the river boat being swept to the waterfalls by a powerful current – it’s too late.

The time to act is now. If we protect the bees and food crises never come, that’s great.  There’s actually no downside; sustainable living costs no more and provides a better quality-of-life experience. Though populations are screaming for it, corporate and government leaders have shown no resolve to really address climate change problems – as evinced by their lack of support for – or even regard for – bees. So …

It’s up to each of us.

 

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