Thanks to Egyptian drawings depicting ancient beekeeping, we’ve long known that humans have worked with bees for thousands of years but we didn’t know just how far back our relationship with bees went. The ancient Egyptians used honey for a multitude of purposes including as a sweetener, a gift for the gods and an ingredient in embalming fluid. These winged agents of life are interwoven into the history and the survival of the human population. Honeybees help pollinate 90% of the world’s major crops, but their population has been in decline for several years. This deterioration has led to the honeybee being placed on the Endangered Species List (ESL) on March 22, 2017 – the first bee to be listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Honeybees are required for pollinating many crops, ranging from nuts to vegetables to fruits. This furry insect is necessary for the human and the animal diet. Having such a creature on the ESL is frightening, and not addressing the situation is even more frightening. There are ways of working to revive the honeybee nation, and Wisconsin should take part in these strategies and nurse humanity’s most precious insect back to life.
The main cause for the decline in the honeybee population is the widespread use of certain types of pesticides that act as neurotoxins to this endangered insect. Collectively, a group of pesticides known as Neonicotinoids are the culprit when it comes to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a terminal condition for hives. Neonicotinoids are often used for widely popular crops such as corn and soy, but in no means limited to those varieties. Although some pesticides are sold as dusts or wettable powders, today, seeds are being sold pre-coated with these formulas, so they accompany the plant as it grows upward, or systemically in nature. Seed coating is the biggest factor driving increased use of neonics; it’s a “one and done” deal. This range of pesticides, the most common being: Acetamiprid, Clothianidin, Imidacloprid, Thiacloprid, and Thiamethoxam, are derived from the chemical structure of nicotine, and are designed to attack the nervous system of below-ground pests such as grubs, borers & maggots.
Farmers want as much security as possible when it comes to crop yield, and will take these extensive measures even if there is a lack of empirical evidence to support the need for neonics. The insect that is the true recipient of this sub-lethal exposure is the honeybee. Plants from neonic-treated seeds don’t just carry the poison in their leaves and stalks; they also deliver it in a bee-attracting nectar and pollen. In addition, when these crops are harvested, tainted particles have been documented as traveling as much as 100 meters from the field, but the distance could be greater. Neonicotinoids cause a range of effects on bees: vomiting, agitation, wing paralysis, uncoordinated movement, and arching of the abdomen similar to the sting reflex. In addition, behavioral disruptions can occur, such as: reduced foraging, disorientation, impaired memory and learning, and a shift in communication behaviors.
While giants of the Agro-Industry, such as Syngenta and Croplife America, claim that the link between declining bee population and proper use of their products has not been made, it has been proven that these pesticides do indeed harm bees. Early in March of 2017, the U.N. Food & Pollution experts issued a severely critical report on pesticides, arguing that it was a myth that they were needed to feed the world, and calling for a new global convention to control their use. Neonicotinoids have been directly linked to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Some bees are unable to return to their hives after being infected due to behavioral changes or death, others might return, but with the powder still attached to their bodies. These ferocious pesticides have been found in varying degrees in honey, a global commodity and important resource for the human race.
I propose beginning with widespread roadside planting in Wisconsin of pollen-rich plants such as: Spring & Summer bulbs, Annuals, perennials and biennials. Certain types of fruit trees and Maple trees among others, also serve as agents of growth. An expanding beekeeping industry will enhance the Wisconsin economy. Planting pollen-rich trees happens to take on two roles within this campaign, in that to combat the Emerald Ash Borer, more trees will have to be planted to offset the degradation of the Ash tree population. Hence, more opportunities for bees to thrive, and also redefining our ecosystem, bracing for the potential disappearance of this incredibly populous tree. Roadside planting, aimed at attracting the honeybee, will also create a new air of color for all to enjoy, including the many people who visit our State each year as tourists.
Most importantly, if elected Governor of Wisconsin, I will ban the use of Neonicotinoids in the Badger State. The dangers incorporated in their use are far too serious to allow these toxins to remain available. In 2013, the E.U. placed a partial ban on the use of these pesticides. A recent report in 2017 by Etymologists in the Journal of Applied Ecology documented data from yield trials that showed no benefit from these insecticide seed treatments. Mass amounts of bees can fly through endless fields of crops containing lethal doses of insecticide, and then spread out through the state. Unable to properly communicate, perhaps paralyzed, the bees do not return to their hive and Colony Collapse Disorder ensues.
Because our planet is home to some 20,000 species of bees which fertilize more than 90% of the world’s major crops, we have no other choice but to ban neonics. The U.N. warned in 2016 that 40% of invertebrate pollinators – notably bees and butterflies, risk global extinction. These toxic chemicals can also end up in our fresh water supply, as runoff from the fields. Having this glorious insect on the ESL is frightening, and not addressing the situation is even more frightening. There are ways of working to revive the honeybee nation, and Wisconsin should take part in these strategies and nurse humanity’s most precious insect back to life.