Thursday, March 17, 2016

Controversy Over MDAR's Proposed Pollinator Protection Plan

In an article published on March 11 2016, the Boston Globe said that Massachusetts beekeepers has "enraged beekeepers, who say the state has ignored their plan to address the problems and underestimated the threat pesticides present to bees."

The plan, which is in it's draft form right now, calls for some changes in the state's apiary inspection program, voluntary training in safer use of pesticides by farmers, and some additional regulation from the state which would be used to help track and research bee deaths.

You can download a draft copy of the Pollinator Protection Plan by clicking on this link. I encourage you to do so, and to carefully read the proposal, because the Globe's articles raises some valid questions as well as making a couple points that I just can not seem to find in the document when I read it.

For example, the article says that the Plan "strips beekeepers of their ability to teach others their craft, instead placing the responsibility with state officials." I can't find anything about that in the Plan. Rather, it explicitly says:
  • Attend a bee school and/or work with a mentor to learn about beekeeping practices. Currently, there are opportunities for classroom instruction, field training, and mentoring provided by knowledgeable beekeepers to members of county beekeeping associations. 
  • Work within the local beekeeping community to encourage queen rearing using northern adapted bees, in order to increase vitality and genetics. 
It seems to me that the language as written in the draft is specifically asking aspiring beekeepers to do what they are doing now: Find a club or association, take a beekeeping class from them, and join the associations to take advantage of the resources that club members make available.

The Globe's article also says that the Plan "also imposes 'unfair regulation' and 'unrealistic policies' on beekeepers, preventing them from being able to manage their bees successfully." Here again, what I am finding in the document itself doesn't seem to be that onerous:

  • Register the location of hives with MDAR, so that they can be included on a hive map, used for contacting beekeepers in times of health concerns as well as a resource that pesticide applicators can use to mitigate pesticide exposure. 
  • Work with Mosquito Control Projects to be included on "No Spray" lists. Ensure that hives are visible to users/applicators by using marking flags and/or paints. 
  • Only use pesticides currently registered for hive use, and use them according to label instructions. Obtain a pesticide applicator license for material classified for Section 18/Emergency Exemption Use or Restricted Use. 
  • In the case of "Bee Kills" where pesticide use is suspected, report to MDAR promptly for investigation. 
  • If needed, request an annual inspection from MDAR to evaluate hive health. 
  • Participate in state and national surveys related to hive helath, so that the status of Massachusetts honey bees can be documented.
Most of these items, it seems to me, are things that beekeepers are doing anyway, although that part about the pesticides is probably quite irritating for beekeepers who are successfully using oxalic acid vaporizers to treat varroa mites (oxalic acid is not currently approved in Massachusetts - or Connecticut either, for that matter, so those of us using it against mites in our hives are operating in a grey area here.)


What I do find bothersome, though, is the way that pesticide applicators and land managers are given practically free rein to continue doing what they're doing, with only a gentle nudge of a suggestion here and there, rather than stricter limitations or an outright ban on pesticides that have been shown to be damaging to all pollinator populations, not just honeybees. Yes, it calls for obtaining proper licensure from MDAR prior to applying pesticides, but isn't a license already required for that? And this wording just doesn't seem strong enough to me:

  • Seek training to learn about the biology, life history, husbandry, and best management practices (BMPs) of managed bee pollinators, in order to better understand methods that avoid non-target impacts.
  • Use an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach to pest control, by utilizing economic thresholds for determining actions. If pesticides are required, seek products that have low toxicity, short residual toxicity, and properties that are repellent to bees.
  • When possible, apply aproducts when managed bee pollinators are less actively foraging (i.e. at night) and when crops attractive to bees for floral resources are not in bloom. Apply pesticides in a manner that they do not drift off target. Do not make applications in areas adjacent to pollinator habitat when the wind is blowing in the direction of hives.

I don't see any strong language there, just "seek," and "when possible." Where are the limitations? Where are the bans on pesticides that have actually been shown to be harmful to pollinators? Why is there no mention of pesticides that become systemic to the plant and which shouldn't be allowed in any quantity?

Although reading the Boston Globe article makes it seem as though nothing we can say or do will change the draft proposal, there is still time to make your voice heard. There will be a public hearing about the proposal right here in our own back yard on Wednesday, March 23rd at the MDAR office in the Slobody Building, 101 University Drive, Amherst MA from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM.

You can also send comments to Kim Skyrm, the Chief Apiary Inspector at Read the Plan and however you feel about it, make your voice heard!

The comments section is open if anyone would care to discuss the Boston Globe article or my interpretation of it.

Views expressed in this article are my own and not necessarily those of the Hampden County Beekeepers Association.

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