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Homeowners urged to "bee" careful using pesticides

Awareness of pollinator protection is a key message this spring from ODA & others

Now that days are getting longer and temperatures are warming, homeowners are beginning the annual rite of spring that involves getting their yards and gardens in proper shape. For many Oregonians, that process involves the use of pesticides. This year, a new and strong emphasis is being placed on protecting bees and other pollinators when using pesticides.

Highly publicized bee deaths last year in Oregon has changed the conversation among many consumers and pesticide regulatory officials.

“We are hearing from homeowners who may be reluctant to use pesticides because of what happened to the bees last year,” says Rose Kachadoorian of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Pesticides Program. “They are seeking out information about the least toxic pesticides and when is the best time to use pesticides. We are not discouraging anyone from using these products, we just want everyone to be smart about it.”

Kachadoorian believes homeowners, plants, bees, and pesticides can co-exist. The same advice offered every year regarding home use pesticides still applies this spring.

“People always need to read the pesticide product label,” says Kachadoorian.

The label tells you what pests the product takes care of and what types of plants it can be used on. It lists steps on how to protect yourself and others during the application. Reading the label will also guide you through the proper method of handling the pesticide. It tells you how to correctly mix the product if it isn’t already mixed. The label also tells you when to apply the product. Some pesticides require dry conditions, others do fine even if it rains afterwards. The label emphasizes keeping children and pets away from the material during mixing and application.

Now, at least for some products, the label cautions against harming pollinators. Certain products containing neonicotinoids– a class of pesticides– are now required by the US Environmental Protection Agency to contain a bee advisory section. It includes a bee icon that helps inform the user that the product is a potential hazard to bees. The new label language prohibits the use of the pesticide product when bees are foraging and plants are in bloom. It also highlights the importance of avoiding drift during application. This information is consistent with the messages delivered by ODA this spring.

“We certainly advise homeowners not to make an insecticide application to plants that are in bloom because bees may come visit those plants,” says Kachadoorian. “We also tell people to avoid drift. You may be making an application to a plant not in bloom, but it’s right next to a plant that is in bloom. Make sure the wind isn’t blowing towards the blooming plant or that you aren’t using too fine a spray. Maybe consider using a granular product on the plant not in bloom.”

One challenge to homeowners is that plants bloom at different times and some bloom multiple times. Some product labels may indicate no application can be made until all the petals have dropped, which could force homeowners to search for an alternative product.

“Overall, if people can hold off and just wait until after bloom, that is the safest way to go,” says Kachadoorian. “Pollinators are attracted to most flowering plants in bloom.”

The new EPA labels are in the marketplace today. But there are still products with old labels on the shelf. Within a year or two, it’s expected consumers will only see the newer labels with the protective information.

Of course, potential problems may be avoided even before homeowners consider pesticides. A reconnaissance mission on the property to determine if there is a serious pest problem is a good initial step.

“In addition to knowing the pest level, people really should be aware of how many pollinators they have in their yard,” says Kachadoorian. “Go and look around. Get to know your plants. Find out which plants will be blooming and when. That will help you decide if and when to make a pesticide application.”

Homeowners sometimes rely on commercial applicators to treat their property with pesticides. ODA is making sure its educational efforts on pollinator protection includes the professionals. Additional emphasis is now included in the required testing process to become licensed, and in re-certification classes.

“We have rewritten the exams given to commercial applicators to include more information about pollinator protection and pesticides that might affect bees,” says Kachadoorian. “We’ve given a lot more presentations and provided study material on how to protect pollinators. We have been educating commercial applicators on the new label language and how they have to follow it.”

Last year, ODA issued civil penalties to a licensed commercial pesticide operator involved in pesticide applications that resulted in the death of a large number of bumblebees in the summer. ODA’s investigation found that a pesticide product particularly harmful to bees was applied on trees with flowers in bloom. The same scenario can play out on a smaller scale in the backyard or garden. That’s why so much attention is being placed this year on educating everyone who might be using pesticide products.

ODA is collaborating with Oregon State University to develop brochures and other helpful materials that emphasize pollinator protection. There is also a list of resources on ODA’s website. That list includes a link to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), where homeowners can get specific product information that includes toxicity levels and how long the pesticide active ingredients last following application.

“Many of us weren’t aware of the impacts that a lot of these pesticides potentially have on pollinators,” says Kachadoorian. “But now I think we can figure out ways to use these products safely by considering the timing of applications or selecting a product with a different active ingredient.”

Commercial applicator or homeowner, an educated individual is more likely to avoid harming bees.

For more information, contact Rose Kachadoorian at (503) 986-4651.

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