Letter: Local Bee Population Decimated By Our Garden Practices

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There are crops which only honeybees pollinate. No bees, no tomatoes. But bees are dying in droves. These integral animals face threats, including disease, pests, habitat loss and chemicals, and are on the endangered species list. In the event of their demise, food shortages will abound. Nutritional deficiencies will be profound and unavoidable. Being American will not insulate us. Still, we seem indifferent to, or ignorant of how humans contribute to this risk. The products we use to maintain our lawns will be culprit in bee extinction.

Agricultural pesticides are an acknowledged threat. The EU has banned chemicals called neonicotinoids. But, a study in the Journal of Applied Ecology reported that damage from pesticides is not limited to industrial use. Common household pesticides are also killing bees.

A study from the scientific journal, Nature Communications, reported that the dominant chemicals found in bee pollen were pyrethroids, the active ingredient in sprays marketed to residential gardeners to combat mosquitoes. These pesticides impair bees’ memories, effectively killing them. Bees require memory to traverse hive to food and back.

Lawn services use these chemicals on a larger scale to maintain the homogenized appearance that customers prefer. Runoff from these chemicals has been responsible for lobster and clam die-off in the Sound. Would such preferences persist if people knew the cost of the perfect lawn?

Our regulations regarding the use of neonicotinoids trail the EU. The EPA rules that use of these pesticides is “prohibited where bees are present.” This “directive” is impossible to enforce; bees travel miles to pollinate. They are everywhere.

Allowing areas in our gardens and public spaces to grow naturally would boost the decimated bee population. The smaller flowers they require are becoming scarce. If our notions about appearance adjusted, it would probably avert extinction. A uniform lawn is not healthy, but artificial. Campaigning in the EU has resulted in a proliferation of billowing grasses and wildflowers in highway medians and suburban gardens. But here, a lack of political will continues, despite the severity of the threat.

Businesses are not the fundamental problem. The problem is in supply-and-demand. Companies provide crowd-pleasing appearance to remain competitive. A bill restricting problematic chemicals would change the plain. Workers and company owners are decent people who would not prefer poisons if alternatives were accepted. Many would welcome being spared exposure to these corrosive substances.

As consumers, we must equip with information. Ask lawn services what they use and how it affects pollinators. Call your local representatives.

Attitudes about the environment have become married to politics. It is not hyperbole to label this tendency suicidal. We must depoliticize issues of ecology and conservation. We can no longer afford schism where nature is concerned. Our circumstances necessitate cooperation and awareness.

—Kelly Francis

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