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Notes on the Valley: Let's be kind to the bees

A bee pollinates a blossom of the ox-eye flower. (Stock photo)

In Jeremy Walsh’s recent "What a Week" column, he talked about a slew of bills that Tri-Valley Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan had introduced to date. While all were important and advanced worthwhile causes, one bill caught my eye in particular.

That bill was AB 363, which would direct the state's Department of Pesticide Regulation to review the impacts of certain pesticides on the health of pollinators (i.e. bees) and humans and take appropriate action as needed.

California is the largest agricultural state in the United States, producing more than 400 different crops.

Bees are key pollinators of important crops grown throughout California, such as apples, avocados, cherries, kiwi, peaches, plums, and strawberries, as well as a variety of vegetables including cucumbers, melons, and squash.

Bees are also vitally important pollinators of many wildflowers and native plants in California, helping to maintain the health and biodiversity of the state's ecosystems.

California is home to over 5,000 species of native bees, and many of these bees are essential pollinators of native plants that provide food and habitat for a wide variety of other species, including birds, butterflies, and other insects.

What was interesting about this particular bill was that a previous, more aggressive bill limiting the use of pesticides was vetoed by the governor last year.

Last year Governor Newsom vetoed AB 2146, which would have curbed the use of neonicotinoid (a.k.a. neonic) pesticides in non-agricultural settings, such as home gardens and golf courses.

Many environmental groups were deeply disappointed by this decision. The European Union, New Jersey, and Maine have already eliminated the home use of this type of pesticide based on decades of studies pointing to its proven harmful effects on bees & humans alike.

Neonics have been linked with a broad range of neurological, reproductive, and developmental harms in humans. Animal studies link them with decreased sperm quality and quantity, reduced thyroid function, and thinning of key areas of the brain.

These pesticides can remain in soil for years and are carried long distances by rainwater, so their effect compounds over time every year they are used.

However, a national trade organization that represents manufacturers, formulators, distributors and other industry leaders involved with specialty pesticides and fertilizer said it welcomed the veto because the legislation was unnecessary.

The agricultural industry and pesticide manufacturers are generally considered to be the key lobbying groups in California that advocate for the use of pesticides.

These groups include organizations such as the California Farm Bureau Federation, the Western Plant Health Association, and CropLife America, which represents the interests of pesticide and agricultural biotechnology companies.

Pesticides are a double edged sword. Due to their long standing and spreading effects, the usage of non-agricultural pesticides have direct effects in agricultural practices.

Some farms are taking proactive measures to embrace more sustainable practices such as creating habitats for bees by planting native wildflowers, creating hedgerows, and leaving areas of land unplanted to support a diversity of flowering plants.

Others are reducing their use of pesticides and adopting integrated pest management (IPM) strategies that aim to minimize harm to beneficial insects such as bees.

These practices are expensive and cut into the bottom line, and so are not widely followed by big players in the industry. It is much cheaper to lobby the state government to continue allowing the use of cheaper pesticides.

Smaller farms & natural wildlife do not have access to such resources, and so the harmful effects of a declining bee population are felt much more acutely.

Although this newest bill has less teeth, there is hope that it will get passed and lead to tangible reductions in this harmful pesticide. In the future, hopefully this doesn’t correlate with an increased number of bee stings. If that’s the cost, I’ll look forward to covering myself in aloe head to toe.

Editor's Note: The "Notes on the Valley" blog is written by Monith Ilavarasan, who grew up in Pleasanton. After a career in tech, he took a sabbatical to be a community organizer. He has continued to work in tech and shares his thoughts on the people, places and events that make up and shape the Tri-Valley.

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