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2013 bee die-off in Wilsonville among incidents prompting efforts



A pollinator health task force is recommending that Oregon lawmakers reactivate a statewide pesticide use reporting system and pay for a “state of the art” facility to diagnose bee diseases.

The Legislature created the task force last year to make recommendations for improving pollinator health instead of restricting the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, as proposed in previous legislation.

In recent years, beekeepers have reported high levels of hive losses and a mysterious phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which bees abandon their hives.

Pesticide critics have claimed that neonicotinoid pesticides are part of the problem, pointing to a massive die-off in Wilsonville that was linked to two such chemicals last year.

Members of the task force — which included representatives of pesticide users, beekeepers and conservationists, among others — approved a report to the legislature on Oct. 27 after several months of deliberations.

Despite the group’s diverse viewpoints, it was able to agree on a variety of proposals, such as improved information for pesticide users, pollinator-specific training for licensed applicators and the development of a statewide plan for protecting pollinators.

The task force’s “general agreement” on the reactivation of Oregon’s pesticide use reporting system is noteworthy, as the program was controversial prior to losing funding in 2009.

Scott Dahlman, executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, represented pesticide users on the task force and did not oppose the recommendation. While he is lukewarm about resurrecting the reporting system, Dahlman said he would consider the possibility under the right circumstances.

“If it’s done the right way, we’re not opposed to it, but it’s not something we’re going to be pushing for, either,” he said. “I’m not going to kick and scream if we do it the right way, but it’s tough to do the right way.”

It’s better for agriculture to help shape any pesticide reporting system rather than simply hope it doesn’t happen, said Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries and a task force member.

“I think it’s going to be part of the water quality side of the equation, eventually,” he said.

Aimee Code, pesticide program coordinator for the Xerces Society insect conservation group, said she was surprised but pleased the task force agreed the system should be revived.

Pesticide use is an important piece of the puzzle in determining potential impacts on pollinator health, she said. “We need to know how and where they’re used.”

Array of strategies

The report also recommends that legislators spend $500,000 on new equipment for Oregon State University’s honey bee lab and fund four technicians and supplies at $500,000 a year as part of a “state of the art bee health diagnostic facility.”

Ramesh Sagili, honey bee professor at OSU, said he is glad the report sets out a broad array of strategies for restoring pollinator health rather than fixating on one subset of pesticides.

The task force ended up focusing a lot of attention to outreach and education, he said. “That is a critical aspect, reaching out to the public.”

The report includes numerous proposals that task force members were unable to agree upon, like requiring an applicator’s license for anyone who regularly uses pesticides in their job and random hive inspections by state officials.

While it’s possible that some legislators might latch on to such controversial ideas, they’re unlikely to gain traction since the task force was able to reach consensus on other proposals, said Dahlman of Oregonians for Food and Shelter.

Code of the Xerces Society said the consensus recommendations may not go far enough for pollinator protection. It’s valuable for legislators to see the more hard-hitting proposals considered by the task force, regardless of their potential inclusion in a bill, she said.

“It might pique their interest but I don’t know if it will be something that will be able to pass the majority of both chambers,” Code said.

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