County Beekeeper Asks Gov. Hogan to Save Hives and Human Health

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Janice Fisher (right) and her daughter, Hannah Kelley, check on their bees. Photo: Peter Cane Photography

by Janice Fisher

I stumbled on two friends with beehives a few years back, and I was both in awe of the beekeepers and their bees. In 2013, I purchased my first bees and all of the equipment that was needed to care for them. My new hobby consumed me. It led me to other beekeepers and everything that had to do with bees. I quickly learned about the peril that bees are in across Maryland and the country. I also grew an overwhelming respect for bees and their significant role in pollinating in our food sources. In simple terms, bees are responsible for every third bite of our food.

Whole Foods created this stunning photo that visually spells out our produce choices if bees were to vanish from the planet. My activism awakened. Photo: Whole Foods

The pernicious culprit killing bees is a pesticide family called Neonicotinoids (sometimes shortened to neonics). The toxin, made by Bayer, impacts the central nervous systems of insects, and even in very low levels can hinder the honey bee’s ability to forage and navigate back to the hive; neonics are one factor blamed for colony collapse of honeybees bees. In fact, I am learning that neonic pesticides also impact birds and bay and sea creatures such as crabs, the same way. The potential for neonic pesticides to harm humans is very real when thinking about the mechanisms in which the chemicals work as effective insecticides. Neonics bind with receptors on nerve cells that normally bind with acetylcholine. These poisons do not degrade quickly and block the neuro-receptors, and ultimately, kill the insect. In humans, these acetylcholine receptors have many functions including the formation of the brain in a developing fetus, muscle contractions, learning, the ability to pay attention, and more. When these receptors are blocked, bad things could hypothetically happen to a human. Researchers at the University of Florida found that exposed rats show signs of toxicity that include “lethargy, respiratory disturbances, decreased movement, staggering gait, occasional trembling, and spasms.” Naturally, humans weren’t in the study, but the researchers reported that “signs and symptoms of poisoning would be expected to be those similar for rats.”

Pollinator Protection Act Attempt 2015

In 2015, I started attending bee activism events. I joined a group pushing the Pollinator Protection Bill, which would ban neonicotinoids in the state of Maryland. Although the bill never made its progression through both the House and the Senate, I learned a lot from my presence at the testimonies, I met many important bee people, and I began paying more attention to the issues involving bees and other pollinators.

Pollinator Protection Act 2016

In 2016, we donned our bee whites once again with determination and sat through many sessions in the State House and Senate and testified on behalf of the bees.  My daughter Hannah, just twelve at the time, made her parents proud with her testimony that made Maryland legislatures think about the next generation. The bill addressed both neonicinoids and the use of the pesticides on crops. The bill also addressed the labeling of these neonics on plants and flowers.  It is crazy, but some plants are grown from seeds that have a neonic coating on them, and they have the pesticide imbedded throughout their structure so the pesticide cannot be washed off. These treated plants are labeled as “bee friendly” because bees may be drawn to that particular plant, but in reality, they will kill the bees.

The 2016 Pollinator Protection Bill passed through both the House and the Senate. Sadly, it was watered down. It only addressed the average consumer’s use of this dangerous pesticide, and the law did NOT address the labeling of the pesticide. In other words, Home Depot and Lowes and other places could no longer carry neonicinoids on their shelves, but professionals could continue to spray crops with these deadly substances. Governor Hogan let the law through after an outpouring of letters and emails. The Pollinator Protection Act put Maryland on the map as the first state to ban neonics. The publicity around the law and bee activism started to wake people up about the importance of pollination and bees.

Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, a big supporter of the bill with her bee-loving constituents

Where We Stand Now:  Pollinator Habitat Plan Act

A new law to help bees and other pollinators is in waiting for Governor Hogan’s signature.  It is called the Pollinator Habitat Plan Law.  This law, if passed, will take designated state pollinator habitats and require them to be free of neonicotinoids. Previously, state planned habitats have not specified restrictions of these pesticides, meaning that use of them would destroy the bees and pollinators that these lands set out to save. The bill now sits on Hogan’s desk. I called yesterday to see if I could get a pulse on where Hogan stands, and I was told that he has not expressed his stand on the matter.

That’s why we all need to tell him where we stand. We need emails, phone calls, and letters to tell Governor Hogan that it is vital that pollinator habitats on state lands need to be free from neonic pesticides; otherwise, we harm the very species that we set out to protect. It worked last year with the Pollinator Protection Act. Let’s barrage him again this year and make a difference.

Things You Can Do: 

  • Write Governor Hogan and tell him that the Habitat Protection Law is an important law for our health and our food supply, and that he should allow it to pass.
  • When purchasing plants for your garden, ask the nursery if they sell plants treated with neonics. If the business does not know the status of their plants and where they come from and how they were grown or treated, buy your plants somewhere else.
  • Go to Smart on Pesticides Maryland (http://www.mdpestnet.org/take-action/smart-on-pesticides-maryland/), sign up for their email. They do not send you tons of emails.  They will keep you abreast of the key issues and facilitate action with easy links to write letters to your representatives.  The website is very informative and explains things well in simple terms to understand.  The site also provides useful links to find information such as pesticide alternatives, Laws recently passed, issues coming up, community events, etc.