Make sure habitats are safe for pollinators

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As an Anne Arundel County beekeeper, I’m on the front lines of the fight to keep our pollinators thriving. It’s been a tough road – Maryland beekeepers lost 56 percent of their hives last year, which follows a 61 percent loss from the year before. I lost 100% of my own hives last year.

Researchers say there are a number of culprits responsible for pollinator losses in our environment – including toxic pesticides and a lack of sufficient habitat. Since bees and other pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat, losing them puts our food supply and environment at serious risk – not to mention the economy.

That’s why last year I was excited to see the state pass two laws designed to help save bees and other pollinators – the Pollinator Protection Act, which restricts consumer use of toxic neonicotinoid pesticides known to kill and harm bees and other pollinators; and the Pollinator Habitat Plans law, which aims to increase habitat for pollinators on state lands.

Unfortunately, the Pollinator Habitat Plans law does not specify that state-planted habitats cannot use neonics and other toxic pesticides known to kill and harm bees, birds, butterflies and other pollinators. This means if a Maryland state agency creates a designated pollinator habitat, but uses toxic pesticides to maintain that habitat, we could actually poison the very species we are trying to protect.

We need to make sure this doesn’t happen. Delegate Anne Healey (D-22) and Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-44) have a bill being debated right now in the Maryland General Assembly that amends last year’s law to ensure designated pollinator habitats planted by state agencies do not use pesticides labeled as toxic to pollinators or use seeds or plants, including shrubs and trees, treated with a neonicotinoid pesticide.

There’s already precedent for this: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service phased out neonic use and it is now prohibited on national wildlife lands. There are also plenty of lower-toxicity pest control alternatives to neonics that are widely available – most neonic-free plants and seeds are no more expensive than plants treated with neonics.

Maryland has already shown leadership in protecting pollinators. Ensuring pollinator habitats are free of toxic pesticides strengthens that commitment and upholds the benefits of those laws.

I hope the state will once again join me and my fellow beekeepers in taking a stand for bees and other pollinators by keeping state habitats free of harmful pesticides.

Janice Fisher, Annapolis Beekeeper