Protecting California’s Pollinators

What is the best way to protect pollinators in California from the pesticides that harm them? The California State Assembly thinks its bill has the answer. However, Governor Gavin Newsom said the regulations finalized earlier this year by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) provide the best protection. Who is correct?

California Assembly Bill 363 awaits a vote in the California Senate. In September, the Senate released out of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill would require the DPR to analyze the impacts of non-agricultural uses of neonicotinoids. It would ban the sale, possession, or use of neonicotinoid pesticides on outdoor ornamental plants, trees, or turf on January 1, 2024. The exception is for use on an agricultural commodity.

Last year, Governor Newsom refused to sign a bill, AB 2146, which would have prohibited the sale, possession, and use of neonicotinoid pesticides for application to outdoor ornamental plants, trees, or turf. Newsom stated in a letter to the State Assembly that the bill “would circumvent California’s regulatory process of establishing restricted materials.” Since AB 363 is an identical bill, the governor is unlikely to sign it.

The DPR adopted regulations affecting agricultural applications of neonicotinoid use that will go into effect on January 1, 2024. The regulations affect the method and rate restrictions, application timing restrictions, and seasonal application rate caps for the four neonicotinoid active ingredients. They apply to any application of neonicotinoid pesticides to berry and small fruit crop groups, except for mulberries. The regulations prohibit the application of neonicotinoids during bloom. However, if pollinators are used to pollinate grapes during the growing season, neonicotinoid application to grapes may be made following DPR guidelines.

While AB 263 stops neonicotinoid use in outdoor urban areas, it does not stop agricultural use. The DPR regulations stop most agricultural use but not in urban areas. Neither is sufficient to protect pollinators and the U.S. food supply. Combined, they would represent the best pollinator protections.

Protecting Pollinators Across the U.S.

California is not the only place in the U.S. trying to protect pollinators. In September, a federal judge dismissed a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would have kept the rusty-patched bumble bee from habitat protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Other states are enacting protections for pollinators:

  • Minnesota banned the use of neonicotinoids on state lands
  • Nevada banned lawn and garden use of neonicotinoid pesticides
  • New York state legislature sent a bill to the governor to ban the use of neonicotinoids and corn, soybean, and wheat seeds treated with the pesticides. If enacted, the bill would eliminate around 80 to  percent of neonicotinoids used in New York.

Neonicotinoids Harm Pollinators

Neonicotinoids are widely used pesticides on farms and urban landscapes. Researchers found neonicotinoid residue on 53 percent of outdoor and 55 percent of indoor samples taken at Iowa farming households. They are toxic to pollinators, including bees, in small amounts, and since they are absorbed into plants, they can be present in pollen and nectar. Pollinators are dying in massive numbers globally, impacting food security. Most of our food comes from flowering plants that need pollinators. Bees, in particular, are essential pollinators for the U.S. food supply. Between 2020 and 2021, beekeepers lost over 45 percent of their honeybee colonies.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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