During Wednesday's meeting of the Minnesota House's Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, state representative Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, offered amendment H2611A26, designed to make sure that land acquired for wildlife habitat preservation in this year's Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage bill not be planted or otherwise treated with a product that contains a pollinator lethal insecticide, as defined by Minnesota law.
Hansen, who managed a pesticide applicator program at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture before being elected to the House in 2004, holds a B.S. in biology, Upper Iowa University and an M.S, in soil management, Iowa State University. Minority lead on the environment committee, he has emerged as a champion for pollinators. Last month, he published It's time for action on Minnesota's pollinators in the Star Tribune.
Hansen offers his amendment and Representative Torkelson (a farmer who holds a B.A. in instrumental musical education, Gustavus Adolphus College) objects in the clip below (transcript under the clip):
Hansen: Thank you, Mr. Chair, just like with a couple of your amendments, I've passed this out of this committee last year, it is saying that land acquired with money in this section, so it's this bill, not previous bills or any future bills, that these [lands] shall not be planted or otherwise treated with a product that contains a pollinator lethal insecticide, and that is one that is on the label that it kills bees and other pollinators, so it is an enforceable choice that te land managers could make, on choosing not to use these insecticide.
I move the ...amendment and encourage its support. I think--I got a copy of the [state] Constitution here and it says that "funds deposited in the Outdoor Heritage Fund maybe spent only to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests and habitat for fish, game and wildlife."
When we talk about these funds we often talk about fish and game and we don't talk about wildlife and the wildlife can be things that you don't hunt or fish for. It can be the small wildlife, the little things, and we need to pay attention to the little things, the things that are at the beginning of the food, because then the things that we hunt may not be there if they don't have anything to eat.
So I think this is a reasonable step on the use of public funds. I think it would help meet the constitutional requirements to protect wildlife, and it's a small step that can be done to protect pollinators with our public resources.
McNamara recognizes Hanska Republican representative Paul Torkelson who raises this objection:
. . .I'd just like to speak against this amendment. While we certainly do have an issue with pollinators, including bees, this is not an appropriate response. There's no scientific proof that this will benefit them in any way and these [pesticides] are very useful tools for agriculture.
We're rather surprised that Torkelson would say this, since scientists at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Pollinators Summit brought up concerns about the relationship between pesticide use, disease, parasites and quality habitat.
Indeed, the artwork at the top of this post is drawn from the presentation at the summit by internationally respected pollinator expert Dr. Marla Spivak, who's been honored by everyone from the MacArthur Foundation to our dear friends at the AgriGrowth Council. Laura Corcoran's charming drawing illustrates the point that foraging areas for bees and other pollinators help them detox and build their immune systems from damage by stressors like parasites, disease and pesticides.
Since Representative Torkelson is listed as having attended the Summit, according to a spreadsheet obtained from the Environmental Initiative, we're not sure how he missed this information.
Here's the entire pdf of Dr. Spivak's Pollinator Summit Presentation, downloaded from the Minnesota Environmental Initiative's page for the Summit:
Here's Dr. Dan Cariveau's presentation:
In a blog post, Better Together for Bees, Greg Bohrer describes the process of small group meetings in which we passed along what we thought were the best ideas around each table. Our first group included a pollinator researcher from the Minnesota Zoo, a biologist from the DNR, a couple of beekeepers, a pesticide activist, and representatives from CHS and Monsanto.
Our top recommendation was "The Hansen Plan" outlined in his commentary, It's time for action on Minnesota's pollinators in the Star Tribune. The report back from the Summit isn't out yet, but it would certainly be helpful for the ongoing committee hearings.
Not long after the Summit, the Associated Press's Seth Borenstein reported in UN science report warns of fewer bees, other pollinators:
Many species of wild bees, butterflies and other critters that pollinate plants are shrinking toward extinction, and the world needs to do something about it before our food supply suffers, a new United Nations scientific mega-report warns. . . .
One of the biggest problems, especially in the United States, is that giant swaths of farmland are devoted to just one crop, and wildflowers are disappearing, Potts and others said. Wild pollinators especially do well on grasslands, which are usually more than just grass, and 97 percent of Europe's grasslands have disappeared since World War II, Potts said.
England now pays farmers to plant wildflowers for bees in hedge rows, Watson said.
There are both general and specific problems with some pesticide use, according to the report.
"Pesticides, particularly insecticides, have been demonstrated to have a broad range of lethal and sub-lethal effects on pollinators in controlled experimental conditions," the report said. But it noted more study is needed on the effects on pollinators in the wild. Herbicides kill off weeds, which are useful for wild pollinators, the report added.
Hansen's proposal is indeed reasonable, removing pollinator-lethal pesticides from one year's worth of Outdoor Heritage Fund wildlife habitat project public lands. It does not ban all pesticides on the public lands, nor does it affect private landowners engaged in agriculture on their property.
Torkelson? We have to wonder if he slept through the morning lectures at the Summit. It's unfortunate that his cry from the heart persuaded his colleagues to reject Hansen's amendment.
Artwork: Drawing by Laura Corcoran, via Dr. Spivak's presentation at the MDA Pollinators Summit in mid-February.
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