Beekeepers Buzzing Over Pollinator Plan

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, March 15th, 2016, by Richie Davis

A draft state plan to protect honeybees and other pollinators in Massachusetts is getting a stinging reception from beekeepers around the state, although a former president of the Massachusetts and Franklin County beekeeper associations says he sees it as a positive step toward consensus among various interests.

Comments on the proposed guidelines are being accepted through March 31 by the state Department of Agricultural Resources.

Former Massachusetts Beekeepers Association President of Dan Conlon of South Deerfield said it has taken several positive steps to protect pollinators.

“It is positive that government and agricultural groups are finally treating pollinator decline as a serious topic and are working to improve conditions,” said Conlon, who runs Warm Colors Apiary and was one of 16 beekeepers on a Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation panel, along with mosquito control, landscaping and other interests, that made recommendations for the state plan, some of which were not included. “It will take time to bring all the stakeholders together and that will sometimes require no one group getting all they had hoped. Progress is messy.”

The state Department of Agricultural Resources has planned a “listening session” about the plan at 4 p.m. March 23 in its Amherst office, 101 University Drive.

The state plan specifies roles for beekeepers, farmers and land managers, pesticide applicators, the nursery and landscaping industries, as well as the state pesticide and apiary programs, spelling out “best practices” for each sector.

For example, farmers would be encouraged to work with beekeepers to select appropriate hive locations and bee staging yards while favoring integrated pest management over pesticide use when not necessary and planting and landscaping with pollinators in mind.

Pesticide applicators would be called on to not only get proper state application licenses, but to get training about managed pollinators, using integrated pest management techniques and products with low toxicity, short residual toxicity and properties that repel bees.

Conlon said a small group of beekeepers focused largely on banning use of neonicotinoid insecticides, which have been implicated in destruction of honeybee colonies, think pesticides are a less significant threat to bees than mites, poor habitat and potential forage or disease.

“I don’t think there’s consensus about this stuff,” he said. “It’s unfair to listen to just one group.”

In the Farm Bureau “stakeholders’ group,” he said, “You had all of the different factions represented, and we got a better idea of what the issues are for everybody,” and the potential for other actions, like encouraging the state or other large landowners to plant more pollinator-attracting plants.

Yet Ann Rein, president of Plymouth County Beekeepers Association, said that by not adopting a framework recommended by a group of beekeepers outside the Farm Bureau consortium, “the state is discounting the knowledge and expertise of the beekeeping community. This is egregious.”

According to Bristol County beekeeper Lucy Tabit, the state agricultural department “informed us they would merge our plan with the plan created by the Farm Bureau. Instead, they wrote their own plan that ignored our inputs. If the state really wants to protect bees, they should adopt the beekeepers’ plan. We don’t know who’s running this initiative – what we do know is that it’s NOT us beekeepers. If my beehives are being killed by agricultural or residential chemical spray, so are the countless other native pollinators and the other wildlife that eat them.”

The group, which Bristol County beekeeper Wayne Andrews said represents about 15 members of eight county beekeeping groups, said the draft state plan ignored the beekeeping community’s requests and favors the pesticide industry by failing to have the state adopt statewide pesticide restrictions that limit bee-killing chemicals.

It calls on beekeepers to “prevent swarming by colonies … to avoid public concern,” which the group points out “is not always possible because swarming is a natural process in a strong healthy hive.” And it doesn’t require pesticide applicators to notify beekeepers where they are applying pesticides.

“What’s happening in Massachusetts seems to have happened in other states too like New York and Wisconsin,” said Andrews. “These plans promote a pesticide industry agenda instead of addressing the systemic drivers killing our bees. A weak state plan may mean that beekeepers will become an endangered species, along with our pollinators.”

But Conlon said he was “appalled” to learn many of the pesticides that are already state regulated for application by professional pesticide applicators can be used in any quantity by homeowners without any permit.

“My feeling is you’ve got to start somewhere,” he said. “You can tweak things and move them forward.”

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