Ban On The Use Of Bee-Killing Pesticides In U.S. Wildlife Refuges Overturned

Back in April the EU voted to completely ban the use of clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam; all part of a group of chemicals called neonicotinoids – a widely used group of pesticides that have been shown to have harmful effects on bee populations.

Unfortunately, instead of joining the EU in their efforts to combat the threat of declining insect and bird populations, the Trump administration has recently decided to instead lift a ban on the use of certain neonicotinoids in U.S. national wildlife refuges.

In an internal memo recently issued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service principal director Greg Sheehan, the agency has decided to lift a ban on the use of neonicotinoids pesticides and GMO crops on wildlife refuges around the country. This repeal comes after a 2014 decision by then-director Jim Kurth to stop the use of GMO crops and to completely phase out the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in national reserves by 2016.

In the recently issued memo, Sheehan stated that applications for the use of neonicotinoids will be considered on a case-by-case basis and that GMO use was necessary to sustain populations of waterfowl and other migratory species. Regarding the ban, Sheehan stated that future expansion of human interest would inevitably result in diminished private farming land, therefore conservation efforts need access to the widest possible range of techniques and products to ensure the future survival of wildlife. It should be noted, however, that the area of land farmed on national reserves comprises less than .01% of all agricultural land in the U.S., thus making it unlikely that farming on federal reserves will meaningfully compensate in any way for the loss of private farming land.

Environmentalists have harshly criticized the repeal decision, seeing it as an attempt to free up reserve land for industrial agricultural use. “Industrial agriculture has no place on public lands dedicated to conservation of biological diversity and the protection of our most vulnerable species, including pollinators like bumble bees and monarch butterflies,” stated Jaimie Rappaport Clark, President of Defenders of Wildlife. “The Trump administration’s approval to use toxic pesticides and genetically modified crops is an insult to our national wildlife refuges and the wildlife that rely on them.”

Dangers Of Neonicotinoids

Neonicotinoids (sometimes shortened as “neonics”) are a family of chemical insecticides similar to nicotine. They were first manufactured in the 1980’s by Shell Oil Company and are currently among the most widely used pesticides in the world. Over 80 percent of the worldwide-tree seed market utilize neonicotinoids, and in 2008, over 98% of crop treatments in North America used neonicotinoids. Recent efforts have been put towards creating novel ways to detect the concentration of organophosphorus pesticides, like neonicotinoids.

Several studies have shown that the use of neonicotinoid pesticides are linked to a number of adverse ecological effects, including honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). During a colony collapse event, the majority of worker bees leave the hive, leaving behind just the queen and a few drones. Such a hive cannot function properly and so quickly dies off. Recent years have seen many episodes of CCD; so much so that in 2016 some species of bees were classified as endangered; the first time any species of bee from the United States has been classified as such.

A widely cited 2014 study demonstrated that neonic usage can result in increased rates of declining of bee populations during the winter and complete abandonment of hives by bee populations. In contrast, control groups that were not affected by neonics progressed entirely normally, repopulating their hives after an expected decline during the cold months. A related 2015 study determined that prolonged neonic exposure can have adverse neurological effects on bee populations, impairing their memory and learning. It is suggested that impairment of neurological functioning explains why worker bees exposed to neonics abandon their hives en masse during winters.

Additionally, a 2016 study determined that neonic exposure can negatively affect worker bees foraging abilities, making them less able to acquire pollen from plants. Most importantly, this study showed that actual used levels of neonic pesticides are enough to have an adverse effect on bee colony functioning. Previous studies had been limited by their failure to use neonic level comparable to those that bees would find in real-world environments.

Bee colony collapse is detrimental because bees play a number of important ecological roles. Not only do we use many bee byproducts such as honey or wax, bee activity serves as a major source of pollination for plants. It is estimated that over 1/6th of the world’s flowering plants and over 400 kinds of its commercially grown crops rely on bees for their pollination. Without healthy populations of bees, this pollination would simply not get done and many kinds of plants would die out. Some even predict entire ecological collapse should bees go extinct.

Regulation And The Trump Administration

Such a move falls in line with other changes in environmental legislation spearheaded by the Trump administration. This recent repeal bears a striking similarity to a case last year, where the EPA director Scott Pruitt decided to repeal a 2015 ban on chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to neurological and developmental disabilities in children. Additionally, new rules set forth by the EPA could set barriers to the use of scientific studies in crafting public policy.

Sheehan, the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the man who issued the memo repealing the ban on neonicotinoid use, has also been the subject of controversy in the past. During his tenure as Director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Sheehan was criticized for accepting a 1 million dollar donation from Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a hunting enthusiast group with ties to oil and coal industries. In addition, Sheehan is a member of Safari Club International, a group that has been criticized regarding their stances on conservation efforts and the hunting of exotic and endangered species.

Recent changes in the EPA’s administrative processes have also altered how the agency deals with suits brought to it. No longer will the EPA take into consideration legal suits brought against them for failing to regulate potentially harmful substances.