Not Killing Birds, Bees, Butterflies and Fish

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No NeoNics In Plants, Gardens, Food…

Bees have deservedly been getting a lot of news coverage lately, especially in terms of their susceptibility to the gigantic class of synthetic tobacco-type poisons. Neonicotinoids or neonics have been clearly implicated in honeybee colony collapse disorder (CCD), and new studies now show that these common-as-dirt toxins are also killing birds, not to mention butterflies. Oh, and fish, as well as other aquatic critters.

What’s going on? Two forms of neonics (imidacloprid and clothianidin) are now the most widely used poisons on earth, found in scores of products used by both farmers and gardeners. Unfortunately, neonics are “hidden” in products that many people may be using unknowingly. Neonics are systemic toxins, which means they penetrate to every part of treated plants, including foliage, flowers, pollen, and fruit, if any.

Bee Friendly Or Bee Deadly?

Sadly, unless they come from organic or transitional growers or are sustainably grown, nearly all nursery-grown plants have been treated with neonics at some point. That includes the veggie 6-packs found at the grocery store, or the hardware store, or the big box store, or on the sidewalk racks outside the mega-pharmacy. In fact, a study released in June found that over half the plants sold as “bee friendly” at Home Depot and other big box stores have been treated with neonics, making them bee-deadly instead.

Independent nurseries are more apt to stock plants grown organically or sustainably and by now, most of them will be able to tell you if their plants have been treated with neonics or not. Why should you care? For starters, these dangerous chemicals have been and are still being used in prodigious quantities. After some 60 years of use, we are just starting to learn how they affect the environment, starting with tiny creatures like bees and butterflies, and and now larger ones like birds and fish.

Time Will Tell, But Let’s Not Wait

Water soluble and very long lasting, neonics are now found in increasing quantities in waterways across the country. The effects are still being discovered, yet are already so significant that the Pacific Region of US Fish & Wildlife Service will be phasing out neonics currently used on agricultural crops grown to feed wildlife. The FWS is concerned not only for the bees and butterflies that pollinate those crops but also for the birds and fish that are inadvertent targets of these potent pesticides. As more studies emerge, hunters and fisherfolk are becoming as engaged as bee-frienders in the efforts to reduce and eliminate the use of neonics.

This phase-out is not an immediate halt, but it is a hopeful step toward less dangerous, destructive and hello, stupid policies. What makes using a systemic toxin on native plant intended to support native wildlife a good idea? Here’s a link to learn more:

To help you sort out this increasingly distressing puzzle, websites have been developed with lists of nurseries that do not use neonics, as well as garden products that contain neonics in any form. You’ll find lists and information about common pesticides that contain neonicotinoids on the website of the Center For Food Safety. Click on this link to find information on how to help bees in a wide range of ways.

Here’s a link for a fact sheet on pesticides and pollinators:

The Center For Food Safety circulated a widely-signed petition that gained enough signatures that led to the FWS decision to withdraw neonics from the Pacific region, and is actively protecting human and environmental health on many other fronts as well.

Befriending Bees

Friends of the Earth also has a Bee Action campaign going, with lots of helpful information on their website as well. This website includes an ever-growing list of retailers who have made a commitment not to use or sell neonics. Click here to learn more….

Beyond Pesticides is another group that has been promoting the reduction and elimination of neonics and other unsafe agricultural/horticultural toxins for many years. Their website offers excellent information about gardening and landscaping without toxins, as well as practical ways to nurture and support bees and other native pollinators. Every day there’s a new story; today’s is about Vermont Law School’s new bee-protective policies:


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3 Responses to Not Killing Birds, Bees, Butterflies and Fish

  1. Sabine Hazel says:

    In your article on bees which appeared in the Kitsap Sun on Oct. 5, 2014, you seemed to recommend figworts, and especially Buddleia or Butterfly Bush. This plant is a known invasive species and is classified as noxious in Washington. While your article may have been factually correct, the omission of the Noxious Invasive Weed information is at best a disservice to the public. The Butterfly bush is a hazard to bees and other creatures (specifically butterflies) since it contains no nutritional value to the insect world other than the nectar and thus skews the environment interferring with the reproductive cycle by starving the larvae.
    Please be sure to mention the appropriate noxious and invasive nature in your articles recommending ornamentals.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Sabine,

      Thanks for your concerns, which I do appreciate. However, there is still a lively debate about the value of and the problems associated with butterfly bush, both in the US and the UK, and throughout Europe. You are right that it is now listed as a class B noxious weed in Washington, with control methods left up to local jurisdictions. I do hope that overall, that article influenced more people to plant appropriately, and I will mention the butterfly bush debate next time I write about pollinator plants (which I do pretty often, but work at least a month ahead according to the publisher’s schedule). Hope that helps!

  2. Raven says:

    Please add me to the mailing list. Thank you.

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