LOS ANGELES—Bee populations have been rapidly declining since 2006, when many beekeepers reported an unusually large loss of bee colonies, according to the USDA.
This week, California’s governor put his signature on a bill that would set a deadline for the state to take a closer look at pesticides that might be harming bees.
AB 1789 requires the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to determine whether neonicotinoid compounds in pesticides are hazardous to bees by July 1, 2018.
“I was excited to hear that the governor actually signed the legislation regarding the neonicotinoid class of pesticides,” said Bill Lewis, president of the California Beekeepers Association, who has seen pesticides effect his bees.
The DPR received data in 2009 that showed a potential hazard to honey bees from these pesticides and started to reevaluate them. This required pesticide companies to conduct tests and submit the results for analysis by DPR scientists.
Neonicotinoids are used extensively in the U.S., from pre-treating seeds and spraying crops to treating pets for fleas and ticks.
They have already been evaluated for effects on individual bees, but other research has shown they could have a delayed negative effect on the whole colony.
A recent study published in the Bulletin of Insectology this May found that low levels of at least two neonicontinoid insecticides contributed to honey bee colony collapse over the winter. It is not uncommon for some bees to die over the winter, but the study showed that bees exposed to low amounts of the neonicotinoid pesticides lost six out of 12 colonies.
The E.U. already instated a two-year ban on some neonicontinoid pesticides in 2013, and last week Seattle joined Spokane, Washington and Eugene, Oregon in banning neonicotinoid-based pesticides on municipal land.
Experts say it is too soon to tell if a these bans will result in a boost of the bee population as other factors, such as loss of food, disease and parasites, and other pesticides also threaten bees.
Many crops in the United States require pollination by bees to maintain high yields. The pollination of California’s almond crop alone, which provides 80 percent of the world’s supply of almonds, requires 1.6 million colonies of bees every year. This is much higher than California’s bee population, so bees are brought from across the country every year to help pollinate.
A large number of other food plants like strawberries, avocados, and onions are also pollinated by bees.
Alfalfa is another crop that is heavily dependent on bee pollination, and since it is often used to boost milk production in cows, a reduction in yields could also affect U.S. dairy production.
“The agricultural economy of California depends on the essential contribution of honey bees to maintain its diverse food supply. This necessary deadline will aid the overall protection of honey bee health,” said state assembly member Das Williams, the author of the bill, in a statement.