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Honey bees die before they can be removed from LOHS

School district officials say they don't know what killed the insects, and that they tried to save them

REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Dead bees still cling to their hive as honey streaks down the exterior wall of Lake Oswego High School.A colony of honey bees died last week of unknown causes before it could be removed from under concrete cornicing near the drama department at Lake Oswego High School.

Lake Oswego School District officials say they don't know what killed the bees. Stuart Ketzler, the district’s executive director of finance, told The Review that nothing was applied directly to the hive and there were no recent pesticide or herbicide applications on campus that would have led to the bees' deaths.

A posting at LOHS warned of an herbicide spraying of Roundup Promax from May 14-15, around the time the bees died. But district officials said it rained that weekend, precluding the scheduled spraying.

In fact, Ketzler said, the district “had tried to save them by working with a local member of the Oregon Society of Beekeepers to have the hive moved to a safer location.” By the time beekeeper Naomi Allan got there, though, it was too late.

Allan said she’d seen the bees days before the scheduled spraying, and they already appeared to be very sick. The last application of any insecticide on campus was on Feb. 18, a treatment dosed straight into cracks leading into the pool building to kill ants, and not administered on any vegetation.

The bees' deaths are part of a national issue that could have a dramatic impact on the country's food sources, because bees are crucial pollinators for crops throughout the United States. About one-third of the food that Americans enjoy comes from crops pollinated by honey bees, including apples, melons, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli and almonds, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But bees have been dying at an enormous rate, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and chemicals, viruses and diseases have been identified as probable causes.

“I’m sorry about bees in general, because they’re struggling so hard,” Allan said.REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - District officials and Naomi Allan, a local bee keeper who had hoped to take home a live colony, say they do not know what caused the bees' death.

Although Allan does not know what killed the honey bees at LOHS, she believes they were exposed to some type of chemical, possibly pesticides or herbicides. The bees can fly for at least a mile, so they could have been exposed to the chemical at a nearby location.

“Sustainable practices need to replace those chemicals,” Allan said.

The district did not have to make a rescue attempt at all, Ketzler said; officials could have simply opted to kill the bees because of the potential danger they posed to students and staff. But instead, the district hired COR Construction Services to pull off the concrete cornicing and invited Allan to come to the school and take away what she’d hoped would be a live colony.

Ketzler was on site to monitor the bees’ removal.

“Even though it was a prodigious effort, we were trying to do our part to help a beneficial insect population that has been struggling regionally as well as nationally,” Ketzler said.

He said he does not know if it is in the district’s power to prevent a future incident, as the bees likely encountered pesticides or herbicides elsewhere.

“We have sealed the area surrounding the location of the hive that was removed and will do the same for other areas as necessary,” he said.

Allan said she believes the bees were attracted to a honeycomb their predecessors had built beneath the cornicing, and that without its removal, more bees would have appeared at the site each year.

Ketzler said the district complies with Oregon's Integrated Pest Management (IPM) rules and district policy to limit applications of herbicides and pesticides on school grounds to “that which is necessary and within appropriate timeframes." The rules also require the district to post notices "on the grounds and other locations to advise people of the application or planned application.”

The district only uses “two low-impact herbicides,” both of which are on the IPM list: Roundup Promax and Dimension 0.25G. The pesticides the district uses are Arilon, Advion, Phantom and Termidor.

School staff do not apply herbicides or pesticides; it is something the district oversees, Ketzler said. It is not uncommon to spray school grounds once annually to limit the amount of weeds, but that is not a fixed standard, he said. The procedure is different for pesticides.

“After an appropriate course of action has been determined, we contract with a commercial applicator for pesticides that must also follow IPM rules,” Ketzler said.

By Jillian Daley
503-636-1281, ext. 109
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