Thurston County is the first county government in Washington state to ban the use of neonicotinoid insecticides on the property that it manages and owns.
The chemical is highly toxic to honey bees and bumblebees, and is found in a variety of gardening products designed to keep insects away from plants.
The Board of County Commissioner’s decision came as good news for beekeepers who believe the chemical has contributed to the loss of bee populations and the collapse of bee colonies.
“I’m just elated,” said Rochester resident Mark Emrich, president of the Washington State Beekeepers Association. “I think it’s incredibly gutsy.”
The County Commissioners voted 3-0 last week to amend its pest and vegetation management policy and prohibit the use of neonicotinoids on its lands. That includes 77 acres of county facilities, 2,646 acres of parks, 47.1 miles of trails and one mile of right-of-way landscape.
“The goal of it is to send a big message to the public,” Thurston County commissioner Sandra Romero told The Olympian on Monday. “… We feel that it is a big enough issue and there could be a crisis if we have more bee colony collapses, more sick hummingbirds, more loss of our bats. All of the pollinators are in jeopardy.”
Neonicotinoid has been banned for municipal use in several cities, including Spokane and Seattle. Last month, the Olympia City Council passed a resolution stating the city would continue its policy to not purchase or use neonicotinoid pesticides for any purpose on its land, and that it would support “a national moratorium on the sale and use” of the products. In addition, the European Union instituted a two-year moratorium on products containing what many refer to as “neonics.”
Beekeeper Emrich said federal government agencies have been reluctant to take a stand, so the push for change is coming from local communities. He said some communities, including Long Island in New York, have banned the insecticide over concerns that it could pollute their water systems.
“I really think that municipalities are really starting to take on the role of it,” said Emrich, of Rochester . “If the EPA and the USDA aren’t going to take this on, we’re going to protect our own backyard.”
Romero said county officials don’t plan to ban the sale of neonicotinoids, which can be found in numerous lawn and gardening products. Some plants arrive from nurseries already containing it, Emrich said.
Romero said the ban for county properties is more about setting an example.
“We really think that the public, when they know and they have the information, will make the right choice,” she said. “We want to be known as a pollinator-friendly community.”
The county also is working with the cities of Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater, as well as LOTT, the Port of Olympia and the Nisqually Land Trust on a memorandum of understanding that would essentially extend the ban to their managed lands.
None of those groups use neonics, but the agreement would formalize that practice and urge participants to use “bee friendly” landscaping where feasible, Romero said.
Olympia naturalist Glen Buschmann of Bees, Birds & Butterflies said he supports the county’s ban of neonics on its properties.
He said he worries about the impact the chemicals may have on native bees, which can’t be tracked as well as honeybees.
Buschmann said insecticide companies have mounted a fight to keep their products on retail shelves.
“There’s some good reason for some push back (from counties and cities),” Buschmann said. “Way back in the ‘60s and ‘70s with DDT, manufacturers were saying, ‘There’s no problem. They’re safe.’ ”