On May 19, the White House released its 58-page National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, delivered by President Barack Obama’s Pollinator Health Task Force. In the mainstream media, it’s the kind of story that lasts for one or two news cycles before being largely forgotten by most of the public, until another “event” brings another wave of coverage.
In the professional pest management industry, there’s little time between each wave of pollinator health coverage. This is no surprise. The industry’s mission is to protect public health and property. Accomplishing this — while also continuing to serve as stewards of the environment — is the tightrope pest management professionals (PMPs) are charged with walking. Many stinging insects are potential health threats to people and animals, and can cause structural damage to property. On the other side of the hive, humans absolutely needs pollinators to survive.
Some within the industry believe the White House’s pollinator health plan is a good thing for all involved. Some question aspects of the plan and the feasibility of its execution. Some fear stinging insects and other pests will run rampant after key insecticides are overregulated or banned. All industry insiders hope the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) takes into full account the key role PMPs play in protecting public health and that this fine line is walked, together, without the unnecessary loss of pesticide products and uses.
Dr. Heinsohn’s hives
A good place to start exploring the pollinators issue is with Dr. Kathy Heinsohn, BCE. She’s been a PMP for more than 24 years, and is a training and technical entomologist for American Pest, Fulton, Md. She’s also been a devoted and successful backyard beekeeper for almost a decade. Both roles seem to inform one another, and give her a unique perspective of pollinators and the controversy buzzing around them.
“I applaud the government’s, researchers’ and the pest management industry’s efforts supporting the bees’ cause through initiatives such as the establishment of the Bayer CropScience North American Bee Care Center and the Bee Advisory Box on EPA labels,” Dr. Heinsohn says.
Dr. Heinsohn is a member of the National Pest Management Association’s (NPMA’s) Technical Committee, and had a hand in developing NPMA’s best management practices (BMPs) for PMPs working near pollinators. (NPMA unveiled the BMPs this March at Legislative Day in Washington.) She’s also a former officer of her local beekeepers association.
Dr. Heinsohn says PMPs should welcome the White House strategy — not fear it.
“The BMPs designed by the NPMA are sound approaches for treatment of pests in the vicinity of pollinators, and will allow PMPs to participate in promoting local pollinator health,” Dr. Heinsohn says.
“There will always be the need for stinging insect nest removal and elimination, especially around schools and homes where residents could be allergic to bee stings,” she adds. “And when it comes to home perimeter treatments, most PMPs are already performing more targeted treatments, using formulations that fit nicely within the NPMA’s BMPs.”
Dr. Heinsohn has followed the buzz on pollinators for years: from the widely reported parking lot bee kill in 2013 to mainstream media’s coverage — it was Time magazine’s cover story in August 2013 — to the European Commission’s adoption of a two-year ban of neonicotinoids (neonics) in December of that year.
As pollinator news seems to ebb and flow with the media’s attention span, the spotlight returned to the topic when the White House released its National Strategy. Anti-pesticide activists and government agencies such as the EPA had been prodding the Obama administration to speak up and take action.
The White House reacted by setting up a task force to examine the issue of declining pollinator health from all sides.
This National Strategy attempts to address the issue, but some in the pest management industry worry that the use of neonics might be unfairly painted with a broad brush and banned entirely — or unnecessarily restricted (few permissable products and uses) — due to overregulation. Such an outcome would force many PMPs to re-evaluate and restructure their pest management technologies and techniques. The often-expressed concern of many PMPs is: “We could lose a key set of tools from our toolbox.”
Dr. Jim Fredericks, a PMP columnist and NPMA’s vice president of technical and regulatory affairs, says he sees the White House strategy as evidence of the success of NPMA’s efforts as advocates of having safe and effective products available.
“It also underscores the importance of balancing the risks and benefits of pesticides, by keeping beneficial pollinators and pesticides separated in time and space,” Dr. Fredericks says.
Mark Sheperdigian, BCE, a PMP columnist and vice president of technical services for Rose Pest Solutions in Troy, Mich., says he fears the White House’s strategy for addressing pollinator health lacks focus. It takes aim at obvious targets, which he says have received the most press and are the most divisive among those engaged in the issue.
“I see the efforts from the White House as an attempt to confront a very complex problem with a scattergun approach of initiatives that address all high-profile suspects,” Sheperdigian says. “I can’t see any of these initiatives as more than shots in the dark, and until we understand the problem — and currently, I don’t think we do — the best approach is continued research.”
Sheperdigian admits research is obviously a part of most related initiatives.
“But a serious, targeted effort with a clear goal is preferable to the expenditure of resources hoping to score a hit somewhere,” he adds.
Dr. Fredericks says the NPMA has worked hard to educate the public, lawmakers and regulators about the facts surrounding pollinator protection, and to defend the industry’s ability to use products that protect clients’ health, pets and property.
“We’ve repeatedly stressed that PMP uses rarely result in exposure, and should be largely exempted from additional mitigation measures,” he says. “In some cases, pollinators can be pests.”
According to the EPA, the “bee box” label is a graphical representation of immediate steps the agency is taking to better protect bees by being even more clear and precise in their directions for pesticide application.
Dr. Heinsohn says she views the bee box on labels, NPMA’s development of the BMP document and webinars to educate PMPs about pollinators, as positive strides toward maintaining a well-informed industry and finding answers to problems related to the health and general well-being of pollinators.
The ABCs of CCD
Dr. Heinsohn says most hobbyist beekeepers have not experienced as many issues as commercial beekeepers have with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) — a term that has become synonymous with pollinator health, when it actually describes a specific phenomenon. By definition, CCD occurs when the majority of worker honey bees in a colony disappears and leaves behind plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. When this occurs, the colony almost always collapses, or dies.
Not all PMPs have Dr. Heinsohn’s background in bees or knowledge of pollinator mechanics. This is just one reason, as Sheperdigian points out, continual education is essential.
“I’ve asked our technicians how the new pollinator protection labels have affected their day-to-day operations,” he says. “They admit their understanding of the problem is hazy at best, but they now consider bees and flowers more as they go about exterior treatments and applications.”
The applications Rose’s techs make with regularity have changed only marginally, so the National Strategy doesn’t currently crimp their production, Sheperdigian says.
“The applications most affected will be barrier treatments for mosquitoes,” he adds. “But these are most often targeted to foliage, not blooming plants.”
Dr. Heinsohn says she’s never dealt with CCD in the hives she’s kept, but she is diligently cautious when it comes to pesticide applications near hives. What she does to practice judicial treatment of pests parallels the BMPs promoted by the NPMA for the entire pest management industry.
“When I use insecticides to control pests in my yard, I judiciously apply them only to non-blooming or non-pollinated areas, targeted specifically to the pests, and only on days when there is no possibility for wind drift toward the hive or the bees’ water resource — the creek behind my house,” she says.
“I intentionally maintain a pesticide-free zone around my hives,” she continues. “I’m also on a registry with the Maryland Department of Agriculture that identifies my hives, in case there’s a municipal need to spray for mosquitoes or gypsy moths during the summer months.”
Being on the registry means Dr. Heinsohn benefits from prenotification by her county if spraying will occur, which gives her the opportunity to cover her hives to protect from drift. Most states have similar registries, and Dr. Heinsohn encourages PMPs to familiarize themselves with them.
“Also, at American Pest, we maintain a list of local beekeepers we can contact if a bee swarm call comes in,” she adds. “We can dispatch local beekeepers to collect and rehive offending swarms.”
Dr. Heinsohn suggests other companies do the same: “A list of local beekeepers willing to collect swarms usually can be found on your state’s Department of Agriculture website, on the ‘state apiarist’ page.”
As this story goes to press, the White House’s National Strategy on Pollinator Health is still the biggest news to emerge on the subject since the mass bumble bee death in Oregon in 2013. Whether the White House’s plan is a bandage or a significant step toward a workable pollinator health solution, has yet to be seen. Either way, the fate of neonics continues to hang in the balance as research continues.
Dr. Fredericks says the NPMA will remain engaged at the state and federal levels regarding the EPA’s plan for the development of state-managed pollinator protection plans (MP3s), which could have a greater impact on products used in urban settings.
“We are dedicated to defending the interests of the structural pest management industry,” Dr. Fredericks concludes. “We’ll continue to work with the EPA and states to ensure common sense, science-based measures are adopted to protect pollinator health.”
5 ‘Need to Knows’ about the White House’sPollinators Protection Plan
1. The overall strategy is being led by the USDA and the EPA and includes: a pollinator research action plan, steps for expanding education and outreach, opportunities for public-private partnerships, and improving pollinator habitats.
2. The EPA has issued a public comment period regarding a prohibition on foliar application during contracted pollinator services.
3. The strategy outlines three overarching objectives/benchmarks:
- Reduce honey bee colony losses during winter to no more than 15 percent within 10 years.
- Increase eastern population of the monarch butterfly to 225 million.
- Restore and enhance 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years through federal, state and public-private partnerships.
4. EPA is developing a comprehensive approach to assessing pesticide risks to pollinators.
5. EPA will work with states and tribes to issue pollinator protection plans.
EPA proposes curtailing propoxur use
While the White House Pollination Plan’s main concern is the class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, a carbamate insecticide is under even more scrutiny. On July 1, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed canceling certain uses of the insecticide propoxur after a preliminary human health assessment determined there were risks from certain applications.
The EPA and the registrant reached an agreement to voluntarily cancel certain uses of propoxur. At the same time, the agency is proposing to ban the use of aerosol, spray and liquid formulations of propoxur inside hospitals and other commercial or institutional facilities where children might be present, and all propoxur use in food-handling establishments.
“Anytime we lose an active ingredient, it has an impact,” notes Dr. Jim Fredericks, vice president, technical and regulatory affairs for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), and a PMP magazine columnist. “We never like to see actives go away. But for propoxur, the uses that were already available are limited.
“Carbamate is an older chemistry,” Dr. Fredericks says. “Because research is evolving, we encourage the EPA to work with registrants to identify and register new actives and formulations, so professionals have the tools they need to protect clients, their businesses, families and properties from pests.”
The way the proposal is written, existing propoxur insecticide stock can be used where permissable, even if production ceases on certain products.
Propoxur is the active ingredient in several industry products, including BASF’s PT 250 Propoxur, Zoëcon’s Prentox line, FMC’s CB Invader products and MGK’s Pyrocide series.
A History of Controversy
➜The first known occurrence of what is now called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is documented. Periodic occurrences since that time raise questions about the lopsided focus on neonicotinoids (neonics) as the cause of regional bee crises.
1960s and beyond
➜During the past half century, the domesticated honey bee population has declined about 50 percent, with incidents common long before the emergence of neonics.
➜Neonics are gradually phased into use and are immediately greeted by the pest management and agricultural industries as wildly effective. Neonics are now the widest used class of insecticide ever.
➜A dramatic rise in bee deaths emerges in several regions. Bee death rates approach 60 percent in California. Many beekeepers point to Varroa mites — parasites that feed on the body fluids of bees — as the likely culprits.
➜Media buzz about bee deaths begins to escalate. The narrative of the pollinator health issue expands as more bee deaths are reported worldwide.
➜The research-based view of bee deaths creates controversy in January, when the European Food Safety Authority issues studies that raise questions about the potential role of neonics in the latest wave of bee deaths. The studies do not link the pesticides to the collapse of entire bee colonies. Despite this, the European Commission adopts a two-year precautionary ban on neonics.
The United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs publicly criticizes research that leads to the ban. Its report states: “The risk to bee populations from neonics, as they are currently used is low … Laboratory-based studies did not replicate realistic conditions.”
➜A high-profile case of more than 25,000 bumble bees dropping dead in a Target store parking lot in Wilsonville, Ore., gets public attention. An investigation reveals misapplication of a pesticide to be the cause. Despite many media reports, the event was not a case of CCD.
CBS News airs a report about a lawsuit spearheaded by the Center for Food Safety, and some antichemical groups, which demanded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ban neonics. The report is criticized by the science community for its narrow scope, which failed to consider other factors possibly contributing to bee deaths.
➜Bayer CropScience opens its Bayer Bee Care Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C., featuring active hives and related research labs. The center helps unify efforts to better understand and promote bee health.
➜In May, the EPA proposes its strategy to protect managed bees, which includes changing label instructions on specific pesticides used at sites where managed pollinators are under contract for pollination services. Also in May, the White House Pollinator Health Task Force releases its much-anticipated strategy for improving pollinator health. The plan receives mixed reactions from the scientific community, the public, PMPs and related associations. Click here to read the plan.
You can reach Senior Editor Will Nepper at email@example.com or 216-706-3775.