Don't blame loss of bees on pesticides

Debate over honey bees has taken a sour turn.

Nobody here is diminishing the importance of honey bees. The bees are in trouble, but neonicotinoids are not the problem ("No bees? No food," March 5). Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam writes in her recent commentary "that bee hive losses are greater than 30 percent since 2006." I'm not sure where this number comes from, but I present the following facts. The decline of bee hive colonies in the U.S. started in 1950 dropping from over 5.5 million active hives to 2.4 million bee hives in 2006. Contrary to media hype (and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture), since 2006 the bee colony "population" has risen to over 2.64 million bee hives nationwide. Also, the claim that "Maryland experienced 50 percent bee loss" is misleading at best. A Maryland Department of Agriculture registration report released in 2015 shows a 49 percent increase in the amount of beekeepers and a 47 percent increase in bee colonies from 2008 through 2014.

The most harmful elements to hive health are the Varroa mite, Nosema fungus, lack of forage, hive mismanagement practices, improper nutrition and, in the back of the pack, chemical toxicity. In the entire state of Maryland, there are zero confirmed cases of bee deaths from neonicotinoids!

Any pest control product, when applied outside of label, can be highly toxic to bees. Here are just a few "organic pesticides" that are highly toxic to bees when applied improperly: Insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, pyrethrins, even the copper sulfate fungicide that my mom used on our roses! It is illegal to apply a pesticide not according to the labeled directions, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has already updated its labeling requirements to further protect pollinators. You see the issue I have here is that a few isolated bad players applying products improperly has gotten us to this point.

Brent Rutley, Woodbine

The writer is president of Just This Side of Paradise Tree Farm and the Maryland Nursery, Landscape and Greenhouse Association.

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