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Environment Maine supports ban on neonicotinoids

On February 18, 2021, Environment Maine's State Director Anya Fetcher testified before the Maine Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry in support of LD 155, a proposed bill to prohibit the use of certain neonicotinoids (bee-killing pesticides) in residential areas. You can view the full recording of the hearing here. Begin at minute 32:20 to watch from the beginning, or jump to our testimony, which begins at 1:27:44.

Below is the written testimony submitted to the committee:

Good morning Sen. Dill, Rep. O’Neil, and members of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. My name is Anya Fetcher and I am the State Director of Environment Maine, a citizen-based environmental advocacy organization. Our members across the state believe that Maine’s environment is precious, and it’s worth protecting. 

You’ve likely heard by now that millions of bees are dying. The problem isn’t going away, and there are real consequences for the resilience and richness of our natural world, as well as our food supply, if we don’t fix this. That’s why I am speaking today in support of LD 155, an act to prohibit certain uses of neonicotinoids. While the EPA has yet to act on restricting the use of these bee-killing pesticides, states like ours have the opportunity to lead and protect wildlife from these toxins.

A UN report found that 90 percent of wild plants and 75 percent of all food crops need animal pollinators to some extent. Of those, bees are nature’s best. So whether it’s seeing a hillside filled with blooming wildflowers, or eating apples, blueberries, and squash, we need bees.

Between April 2019 - April 2020, beekeepers in the U.S. reported losing nearly 44% of all honeybee colonies, more than twice what is considered sustainable. During the winter of 2019-20, Maine beekeepers reported losing 41% of their colonies. Not to mention that more than half of all native bee populations are in decline, including some of Maine’s 270 species of native bees.

I am not here to argue that pesticides are solely responsible for these die-offs and that eliminating them will magically solve this problem. Scientists point to several causes for bee die-offs, including the loss of good habitat, disease, our changing climate, and, yes, bee-killing pesticides. We’re working to address each of these problems, but the most immediate steps we can take to save the bees are to improve and enhance their habitats and reduce their exposure to the pesticides that not only kill them, but may also affect their ability to properly deal with other challenges, including the varroa mite.

The abundance of neonics in our environment also poses risks to aquatic invertebrates. Routine detection of imidacloprid—one of the most common neonics found in residential settings—at levels the EPA predicts causes chronic harm to aquatic invertebrates can have a ripple effect throughout the ecosystems that depend on them for food. Wildlife from fish to birds are unintentionally harmed by this pollution. 

As the modern world continues to develop and expand, natural wildlife habitats disappear. Predators, agricultural pesticides, and a reduction of diverse food sources for pollinators in rural areas mean city gardens and other green spaces have now become safer and more nutritious for bees than their traditional habitats. However, with neonics on the shelves for everyday consumers, who may be unaware of the negative effects from these pesticides, places that could be havens turn into death traps. There’s no justification for allowing the use of these pesticides in our residential areas -- a prettier lawn or rose garden doesn’t cut it. LD 155 would remove four of the most common and problematic neonics from cosmetic use in residential landscapes, thus making urban green spaces more warm and welcoming places for pollinators to thrive.

Here in Maine, we take pride in the natural beauty of our state, our world-famous blueberries, our locally grown, organic produce, and our commitment to protecting the unique wildness for which we are known. Already, three other states have banned the sale of bee-killing pesticides to consumers. Canada, as well as the EU, have banned them entirely. Environment Maine has collected over 10,000 petition signatures from Mainers who support this bill, and we have a letter signed by 60 farmers, local businesses, organizations, scientists, and beekeepers advocating for a ban on these bee-killing pesticides. I urge you to listen to these voices, and vote in favor of bees and other pollinators, in favor of our local farmers and communities, and in favor of our planet. A world without bees would weaken the web of life that sustains us and all species. We need to act today to save them.

Thank you.