An estimated 25,000 bumblebees and many other pollinators have been killed by suspected pesticide poisoning in a Target parking lot in Wilsonville, Oregon. This is the single, largest known incident of bumblebee deaths in America.
The bees were still dying on Wednesday. Yellow-faced bees fell from the trees, twitching on their backs or wandering in tight circles on the asphalt. Some honeybees and ladybugs were also found dead. A few dead bumblebees even clung to linden flowers, while hundreds littered the lot."Bumblebees are the single most important natural pollinator in Oregon," said Mace Vaughan, pollinator program director for the Xerces Society.
Shoppers at the Target first notified the Portland-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation about a large number of bee deaths. Rich Hatfield, a Xerces Society conservation biologist, went to the Target parking lot to document the massive bee kill.
“After several calls at the office I visited the Target store in Wilsonville and found a parking lot full of dead bumble bees underneath blooming European linden trees,” said Rich Hatfield. “They were literally falling out of the trees. To our knowledge this is one of the largest documented bumble bee deaths in the Western U.S. It was heartbreaking to watch.”Hatfield estimates that more than 150 bee colonies were lost by the bee kill. "There were also dead honey bees, lady bird beetles and other beneficial insects. Bumble bees are especially important to agriculture in western Oregon, where they are considered vital pollinators of many berry crops and Willamette Valley seed crops," according to the Xerces Society.
“We need to spotlight this as a real-world lesson in the harm these toxic chemicals are causing to beneficial insects. It would be especially alarming to find out whether pesticides are the cause in this case because the linden trees are not even an agricultural crop. Any spraying that happened would have been done for purely cosmetic reasons,” Scott Hoffman Black, Executive Director at the Xerces Society, said.
Pesticide poisoning is likely the cause of the bee deaths, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported on Wednesday. The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) "talked with a landscaping company that recently sprayed an insecticide called Safari on the European linden trees in the parking lot," according to Black. "Evidently they didn't follow the label instructions. This should not have been applied to the trees while they're in bloom," Black said.
The Oregonian adds:
Safari is part of the neonicotinoid pesticide family. When it is sprayed on a plant, the leaves, flowers and nectar become toxic to almost all insects. The product's label on the distributor's website warns it is "highly toxic" to bees and tells applicators not to apply it "if bees are visiting the area."Neither the property management company, Elliott Associates, nor the unnamed landscaping company would respond to calls by The Oregonian.
The European Union is in the process of banning neonicotinoid pesticides for two years because they are so deadly to bees, BBC News reported in April. Here in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency "dithers" while Americans keep spraying, Mother Jones reported last month. An EPA review process is expected to take at least five years.
"I've never encountered anything quite like it in 30 years in the business," Dan Hilburn, director of ODA plant programs, told The Oregonian. ODA believes the linden trees were sprayed with Safari on Saturday and tests will take two to three days to be definitive. In addition to the insecticide application, the ODA is looking at other pesticide uses in the area.
While honeybees' Colony Collapse Disorder receives most news coverage, bumblebees are also in decline. "The bumblebee deaths marked an inauspicious start to National Pollinator Week, which runs through June 23."
An investigation by the pesticide division will determine if there was any violation of state or federal pesticide laws. The case could take up to four months, said Dale Mitchell, the pesticide compliance program manager.