NPMA Tips: When a Pollinator is a Pest

|  October 25, 2014

The go-to speech for elementary school career day presentations is often about good bugs vs. bad bugs; and pollinators, particularly honey bees, are referred to with special reverence as one of the good guys. These school-age interactions usually are punctuated by entertaining questions and comments about Johnny’s cootie problem or the water bugs all over Susie’s grandma’s kitchen. But because of the media scrutiny pollinator health issues, regulators and consumers have received during the past 12 months, pest management professionals (PMPs) have been forced to deliver the pollinator protection message to an audience that reaches beyond the show-and-tell demographic.

The idea of a pest is anthropocentric (interpreting the situation in terms of human values or experiences) and circumstantial. The relative concept of a pest is clearly demonstrated in the case of bees. For example, carpenter bees burrowing into a fallen log in the forest play an important role as pollinators, but the same bees nesting in a log home are considered wood-destroying pests that can compromise the integrity of the structure. Honey bees, too, when kept in a hive and managed by a beekeeper, provide many benefits (pollination services, honey, beeswax), but when feral colonies live in the walls of a school or home, the potential for stings and other problems increase. In the case of Africanized honey bees (AHB), the stakes are greater.

Many PMPs have found ways to remain bee-friendly while still addressing the problem of pollinators turned pests. They have honey bee policies that encourage clients to seek the help of professional beekeepers to remove and relocate feral colonies that have invaded buildings. Some have even encouraged employees to take up beekeeping as a hobby, and then provide nonlethal removal services: The company charges a service fee, the technician keeps the bees, and the customer is happy.

There are many situations when insecticidal treatment is the prudent course of action, especially when human health is in danger or the logistics of removal aren’t practical. In these cases, educating the client about the benefits of insecticide treatments become essential. The service technician visiting a home or business often is the only person the consumer knows who handles or applies pesticides, so it’s the industry’s responsibility to ensure facts are delivered to clients sensibly. They mustn’t cloud an issue about which some advocacy groups and media outlets have provided murky (at best) half-truths.

To help the industry with this task, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) recently unveiled PollinatorHealth.org, which is dedicated to providing facts about the importance of pollinators, their health and the dangers pollinators can pose when they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. The site even includes tips for planting pollinator-friendly gardens and resources for finding local beekeepers. It’s our duty as professionals to be trusted advisors for clients. We must be reliable sources of timely, science-based information so the public’s welfare, as well as pollinators’ health, is protected.

You can reach Dr. Fredericks, chief entomologist and VP of technical and regulatory affairs for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), at jfredericks@pestworld.org.

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