AUGUSTA – A bill by Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, to protect Maine’s native bee populations by reducing use of certain pesticides earned approval from the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee on Thursday.
The vote was 6-4, with the minority of committee members voting to pursue further assessment of the threat posed by the class of pesticides Grohoski’s bill would impact.
“As our agricultural community knows, pollination is critical for so many of our food crops, especially here in Maine with our wild blueberries barrens, apple orchards and small family farms,” said Grohoski. “I introduced this bill to support our farmers by limiting cosmetic uses of chemicals which are known to have lethal and sublethal effects on bees. I’m pleased that a majority of committee members agreed that we should move forward now with evidence-based restrictions on these pesticides.”
As amended, Grohoski’s bill would protect Maine’s native bee populations by restricting the use of certain neonicotinoid pesticides from outdoor use by homeowners. Under the measure, the chemicals would still be allowed for use to protect pets and control indoor pests like bed bugs.
Neonicotinoids are widely used in landscape applications and are a risk to pollinators because they are absorbed by plants and can remain present in pollen and nectar long after the pesticide is applied. Recent research has shown that these pesticides are killing bees, affecting their health and changing their behaviors.
Environment Maine, a statewide research and advocacy organization focused on preserving and protecting Maine’s air, water and natural landscapes, worked closely with Grohoski to advance the measure.
“The science is clear, neonics are bad for bees. Outside the context of growing America's food, there is no justification for using these bee-killing pesticides. The committee's vote is an important step in removing these poisons from our environment, and we applaud Rep. Grohoski's dedication and hard work in this effort,” said Anya Fetcher, state director of Environment Maine.
The legislation is clearly popular with Mainers. In a 2018 Maine survey conducted by The Nature Conservancy, 80% of respondents identified “helping conserve habitat for disappearing pollinators like bees and monarch butterflies” as extremely or very important.
“Other states along the east coast have already taken steps to ban this harmful class of chemicals and it’s time for Maine to follow suit,” said Rep. Sarah Pebworth, D-Blue Hill, cosponsor of the bill. “As someone with a background in the hospitality industry, I understand that many people are drawn to Maine because of our vibrant local food systems. Bees are necessary to make sure this sector of our economy can thrive.”
Blue Hill is currently considering a local ordinance limiting pesticide use.
The bill faces further votes in the House and the Senate.
Grohoski, who is serving her first term in the Maine House, represents the communities of Ellsworth and Trenton.
Pebworth, who is also serving her first term in the Maine House, represents the towns of Blue Hill, Brooklin, Brooksville, Castine, Sedgwick and Surry.