Bees in the D President Brian Peterson-Roest inspects a beehive frame, looking for eggs to ensure the queen bee is healthy. Bees in the D maintains four beehives on the rooftop of Shinola Hotel in Detroit.

Bees in the D President Brian Peterson-Roest inspects a beehive frame, looking for eggs to ensure the queen bee is healthy. Bees in the D maintains four beehives on the rooftop of Shinola Hotel in Detroit.

Photo by Jonathan Shead


Bills aim to save state’s pollinators by banning new pesticides on public land

‘We’re looking at a dangerous road to possible extinction of these insects’

By: Jonathan Shead | Metro | Published June 8, 2021

 Peterson-Roest pulls out a frame. The hives are part of Bees in the D’s efforts to create urban gardens.

Peterson-Roest pulls out a frame. The hives are part of Bees in the D’s efforts to create urban gardens.

Photo by Jonathan Shead

METRO DETROIT — Two new Michigan House bills have been introduced in an effort to save the state’s bees, butterflies and other native pollinators.

House Bill 4895, introduced by District 41 state Rep. Padma Kuppa, seeks to ban neonicotinoid pesticides on public land to protect the state’s food supply and support healthy ecosystems for its pollinators.

“It’s related to nicotine. It’s a new class of insecticides that’s toxic, not only to bees, but to monarch butterflies and other important pollinators and beneficial insects,” Kuppa said.

Neonicotinoids affect the central nervous system of insects and can contain any of the following ingredients: acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, thiacloprid, thiamethoxam and/or nitenpyram.

House Bill 4896, introduced by District 37 state Rep. Samantha Steckloff, proposes milkweed plants no longer be defined as a noxious plant, to limit the control and extinction of the plant, which serves as the only food source for monarch caterpillars.

Both representatives said the motivation to introduce the bills came from personal connections to beekeepers and local farmers. Kuppa and Steckloff believe the bills will not only preserve and support the state’s pollinators, but also support the food supply chain and economy.

Honeybees are estimated to add $15 billion in value to the country’s crops through pollination, and worldwide pollinators contribute to the production of roughly 35% of global crops.

“I just think we’re at the point of no return. If we don’t fix this issue, we’re looking at a dangerous road to possible extinction of these insects, and if we don’t have them, there goes our food source, our economy. Everything comes crashing (down),” Steckloff said.

 

Damaging declines
Honeybees, butterflies and other native pollinator populations weren’t depleted down to concerning numbers overnight. In 2006, researchers began collecting data from the nation’s beekeepers on annual colony losses through the Bee Informed Partnership, which have seen population declines stay consistently alarming every year since researchers began.

Average colony loss during the winter — the hardest season for beehives to survive — for backyard operations, described as managing 50 or fewer beehives, showed a 41.9% decline from 2007-2020. Sideline operations, or managing 51-500 beehives, saw an average loss of 33.4%, and commercial operations, which managed 500 or more beehives, saw an average decrease of 27.7% over that time period, according to Bee Informed data.

Between 2019 and 2020, Michigan saw a 52.3% decline in honeybee colonies as reported to Bee Informed by 128 Michigan beekeepers. The state had 1,430 active colonies that year.

In Michigan alone, there are 450 different species of bees, Bees in the D President and co-founder Brian Peterson-Roest said. In the United States, there’s 4,000.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a national report on honeybee health in 2012, citing concerns that parasites, pathogens, poor nutrition due to diminished food supply, and exposure to pesticides were main contributors to pollinator population loss. The main contributors have stayed the same up to today, Peterson-Roest said.

“Unfortunately, pesticides are up at the top of the list,” he said. “Another one of the biggest contributors is diseases in parasites, especially the Varroa mites, but pesticides are huge, and also climate change and the loss of habitat are big factors as well.”

Bees in the D is a local nonprofit that maintains 198 honeybee hives across metro Detroit and parts of Canada. They educate people on the importance of bees and other native pollinators to the environment, and have a large focus on growing urban gardens, with beehives located on the rooftops of the TCF Center, Shinola Hotel and more.

The work to protect pollinators continued at the state level in 2016, when the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development introduced plans to develop a managed pollinator protection plan that provided stakeholders with non-regulatory guidance on reducing pesticide risk and preserving pollinators. A representative from MDARD could not be reached for comment by press time. For more information, visit michigan.gov/mdard.

“It’s a preventable extinction. The extinction is coming from human beings, and we can prevent it, which is why it’s important we really work on this,” Steckloff said.

 

Education plus legislation
As newly introduced House bills, the two have a long way to go before a possible implementation. Both bills are currently waiting to be brought up to a hearing, Steckloff said, and to be reviewed by the Agriculture Policy Committee.

Despite the slow-moving pace of the Legislature, both representatives believe the continued research on the use and consequences of neonicotinoid pesticides, as to be conducted by MDARD if House Bill 4895 were to pass, will be critical to understanding the best course of action to protect the state’s pollinators moving forward.

“When you do placemaking and planning, the idea is to build the plan from the ground up to get people to join you in wanting to ban neonicotinoids, but you can’t get people to join you if you don’t explain what the problem is. That’s why the piece of the bill that provides the report is so essential,” Kuppa said. “It’s difficult to do if we don’t have the educational component behind it. The report is going to do a lot of good in letting residents know what the needs are, (and) why those needs are there.”

If passed, House Bill 4895 would go in effect a year after the implementation date, to provide users with time to find an alternative, Kuppa said. House Bill 4896 would become effective immediately if passed.

House Bill 4895 also contains language that would allow municipalities to enforce stricter local guidelines on the banning of neonicotinoid pesticides.

When thinking about the population declines, and the help he believes this legislation could bring, Peterson-Roest sees this issue as similar to the concerning trend toward extinction that bald eagles faced in the early 1960s. After fish were contaminated with the chemical compound DDT and eaten by bald eagles, the eagle population dwindled to only 487 nesting pairs in 1963, according to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Once (DDT) was banned, the bald eagles, as we now know, are a huge success story. I really feel this bill parallels it,” he said. “These pesticides that are being used are extremely deadly to our pollinators, and not just bees, but our butterflies, our moths and other animals, like hummingbirds.”

Trace amounts of neonicotinoid pesticides can sometimes be found in boxed foods, like cereal, as well as fruits and produce we buy, Peterson-Roest added.

“What they do in rural parts of Michigan affects all of us across the state,” Kuppa said. “I know that what happens in urban and rural areas of the state impacts me, because we’re an entire state. We’re not unconnected in some way.”

 

Ask for a mile, get an inch
While Steckloff and Kuppa acknowledge that oftentimes in government you can ask for a lot and come out with only a few compromises, they believe these two House bills are a great first step.

“It’s not going to fix the problem, but it can help the problem,” Steckloff said. “You know the government, you ask for a mile, (and) you can take an inch.”

The Republican-led Legislature could be a factor.

“It must be brought up to a hearing, and that’s the decision of the chair. That’s where the majority and minority party have issues, because bees and butterflies should not be a Republican or Democratic issue,” Steckloff added. “You want to talk about bipartisan support, you would think bees and monarchs would be perfect,” but politics may unfortunately come into play.

Conversations around these bills may be moving slower than both representatives would like, but local conservation efforts made by Peterson-Roest and other organizations, are continuing to make a positive impact. Peterson-Roest has heard from beekeepers and farmers that an increase in pollinators in their garden or nearby have helped their produce grow 10-fold.

People can also help support pollinator conservation efforts easily at home, he said, by planting wildflowers, especially those native to Michigan, in their yard; leaving out a bowl of water with rocks for pollinators to safely land on and drink from; and by supporting local beekeepers and organizations like Bees in the D.

As local organizations continue to fight for pollinator conservation out in the field, Kuppa and Steckloff said they are determined to fight for it in Lansing.

“It’s a long process, but when you believe in something, you don’t give up. Rep. Kuppa and I did not just put these bills in to put them in. We put them in to get them passed,” Steckloff said. “I think this is a great step to protecting the state’s food chain, supply, and the economy. As we emerge from this pandemic, it’s time to move forward and work on issues that propel us toward a better future.”

For more information about the House bills, visit legislature.mi.gov. For more information about local efforts, visit beesinthed.com.