At least 25,000 bumblebees were found dead on Monday under linden trees at the Target store in Wilsonville.

“They were literally falling out of the trees,” says Rich Hatfield, who first documented the massive bee kill. Hatfield is a conservation biologist with the Portland-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a world leader in bee conservation research and protection efforts.

“To our knowledge,” Hatfield says, “this is one of the largest documented bumblebee deaths in the Western U.S. It was heartbreaking to watch.”

Xerces has suggested two potential causes of the bee death. One is acute pesticide poisoning of the linden trees. There is also a concern that the trees are a poisonous European species.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture has collected samples of the bees and foliage from the trees, and is testing to see if pesticides were used at the site.

The 25,000 dead bumblebees likely represents the loss of more than 150 bee colonies, Hatfield says.

Ironically, Monday was the start of National Pollinator Week, a symbolic annual event designed to call attention to the plight of bees.

“If the trees are indeed toxic, they should be cut down and replaced by something that will provide non-toxic pollen and nectar for bees,” says Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society.

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