Oregon temporarily restricts pesticide use following bee deaths: LA Times

State officials in Oregon are temporarily restricting the use of more than a dozen pesticide products following the deaths of an estimated 50,000 bumblebees in the Portland area this month.

The measure, effective immediately, will last for 180 days while the Oregon State Agricultural Department investigates incidents of a mass bee die-off in the Portland suburb of Wilsonville, and a much smaller die-off in neighboring Hillsboro.

Eighteen pesticide products containing the active ingredientdinotefuran and used for ornamental, turf and agricultural applications have been banned for now. 

“I have directed the agency to take this step in an effort to minimize any potential for additional incidents involving bee deaths connected to pesticide products with this active ingredient until such time as our investigation is completed and we have more information,” the agency’s director, Katy Coba, said in a statement released Thursday.

“Conclusions from the investigation will help us and our partners evaluate whether additional steps need to be considered.”

A pesticide known as Safari, which contains dinotefuran and belongs to a class called neonicotinoids, caused the deaths of an estimated 50,000 bumblebees  in a Target parking lot in Wilsonville this month, authorities said. Crews have wrapped the affected linden trees around the lot with protective netting to prevent further deaths.

The staggering number marks the world’s largest recorded mass-die off of bumblebees, experts said. Initial estimates pegged the number of deaths at 25,000, but that figure doubled after a second assessment, said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Portland-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Late last week, a second report of dead bumblebees emerged in the Portland suburb of Hillsboro. City officials were alerted a week ago to a cluster of at least 100 bees on the ground beneath a single linden tree downtown.

Following Wilsonville’s lead, the city of Hillsboro bought netting to wrap around the tree, public affairs manager Patrick Preston told the Los Angeles Times. The Oregon Department of Agriculture visited the site to take samples and test whether pesticides also played a role.  

The city of Hillsboro sprayed 200 trees with Safari in March, Preston said. As the trees were not flowering at the time, city officials were following label directions, he said.

The city has sprayed the trees with Safari for the past three years. This is the first time bee deaths have been reported, Preston said.

“If Safari is found to have been behind the bee deaths then we will not be using it anymore,” Preston said.

Valent U.S.A. Corp., the manufacturer of Safari, said in a statement this week that it was making a donation to pay for the protective netting surrounding the Wilsonville trees.  The company also sent an entomologist to work with city and state officials.

The company said it is committed to protecting pollinators, noting the product label warns against applying the product or allowing it to drift to blooming foliage if bees are present.

“Valent also promotes the responsible use of our products, and we are actively conducting outreach with our customers and industry partners to reinforce the importance of responsible use according to label guidelines,” the statement said.

But scientists with the Xerces Society said the discovery in Hillsboro shows that the pesticide can have a lasting impact in the environment, and have urged city and county governments to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides entirely. 

Meanwhile, Portland’s ecologically-minded activists have organized a memorial for the dead bees. Organizer Rozzell Medina, an artist and educational activist in Portland, said that once he heard the bee deaths were caused by a pesticide, he became “very sad about it, very concerned.”

Medina soon realized that others in the community shared his distress. He decided to plan a memorial where people could gather, share information and discuss the incident.    

“This isn’t a funeral,” Medina, who earned a master’s in leadership and sustainability education from Portland State University and now works there as a program coordinator, told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. “We’re not there to bury the bees or build little bee coffins. We’re going there to talk about what this means.”

The event will take place in the Target parking lot in Wilsonville where the bees were discovered.