Tom's Corner

Time Line: The Events Behind “Tom’s Corner”

Welcome to “Tom’s Corner,” a blog about bee decline by Tom Theobald, founding member of the Boulder County Beekeepers’ Association. In July 2010 Theobald wrote an article about clothianidin and bees for Bee Culture magazine that ignited a conversation about the connection between systemic pesticides and declining bee populations in the United States. Timeline here:

The story continues to unfold…

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Insect biomass decline documented in Germany

This paper, an Investigation of the Biomass of flying insects in the Orbroich Bruch Nature Reserve near Krefeld, Germany, and the italicized notes below, came yesterday from Graham White in Scotland. Worldwide the environmental destruction is enormous. This recent exploratory study by the USGS, Native Bees Foraging in Fields Are Exposed to Neonicotinoid Insecticides, found neonics in native bees right here in the grasslands of northeastern Colorado far removed from agriculture. Even were we to wave a magic wand and stop the use of neonics today, it will likely take years for the environment to purge itself of these poisons.


Orbrioch Nature reserve

Please see attached a science study published by the Krefeld Entomological Society in the Orbroich Bruch Nature Reserve – a wetland and water meadow area near Krefeld in Germany. The reserve has been managed for conservation objectives for many decades.

In 1989 – when flying insects were trapped, identified and the total weight of insects was recorded in grat detail.

Twenty five years later, in 2013, the same experiment was duplicated: using the same insect traps, on the same sites, in the same Nature Reserve and over the same sampling periods.

The entomologists describe their results as “frightening”.

The biomass of insects trapped in 2013 had fallen to less than 20% of the biomass collected in 1989 – and during some collecting periods, the biomass had fallen to less than 10% of 1989 levels.

The decline was not merely the physical biomass of insects, but was also reflected in a decline in the variety of species and taxa.

This ecological collapse took place within a designated Nature Reserve which has been specifically managed to maximise “conservation benefits” for over 25 years.

Pesticides and herbicides had been used on grassland areas nearby and neonicotinoid coated seeds are used on farmers fields, which surround the reserve, but the massive decline in flying insects within the reserve itself came as a great shock.

The accelerating decline of insect life parallels the decline of other wildlife species in the reserve, notably the Shrike – which bred widely in the reserve up to the 1960s but has now entirely vanished – largely because of the disappearance of the beetles and grasshoppers which the Shrike depended on to feed its chicks.

The study could not determine the ‘cause’ of this ecological collapse but concludes that if the decline of insects continues at the current tate, the reserve could be facing ecological collapse as soon as 2025.

Given the extensive use of herbicides, fungicides and pesticides in adjacent fields, the obvious hypothesis is that these biocides are spreading into the Nature Reserve via air and water, and decimating insect populations.

The implications of all this, for wildlife of all kinds in Europe – but especially for insectivorous birds – are extremely alarming.

One wonders if any similar time-comparison studies of insect life being carried out by wildlife organisations in the UK and USA?

– Graham White

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Jim Doan on the state of American beekeeping

Here is a stark but enlightening interview with commercial beekeeper Jim Doan, on the state of American beekeeping. Thirty minutes long, but well worth the time for any of you trying to understand the elements of the crisis we are in. The first half is the interview with Jim. In the second half host June Stoyer and I discuss a number of pertinent topics.

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Is ‘pounds’ an accurate measure of pesticide use?

As good as this article from Civil Eats is, As Bees Die Off, the EPA Shuffles Its Feet, there are some mistakes. The most serious is that we still let the criminals define the vocabulary we use, and we continue to talk in ‘pounds’ as if that was an accurate measure of pesticide use.

Three million pounds of neonics on corn, another million on soybeans, looks pretty good when compared to the year of highest usage for DDT, eighty million pounds in 1959. Four million pounds of neonics, what’s all the fuss about?

Well, what’s missed is the fact that those four million pounds of neonicotinoids have the toxic equivalence of about fifteen billion pounds of DDT. And if that isn’t mind boggling enough, consider that only 5% of the actual usage is accounted for. Seed treatment, the focus of the lawsuit just filed against the EPA, represents 95% of the use. Add that in, multiply by a conservative five thousand (neonicotinoids are five to ten thousand times more toxic than DDT to lower level life forms) and we have the toxic equivalence of approximately 300 billion pounds of DDT, every year, year after year. This is the agricultural use, you can probably add in another 100 billion for urban and suburban use.

And in the face of this massive environmental poisoning what do we get from the EPA? Excuses, cover ups, evasions and sleight of hand. After twenty years of carnage and millions of colonies lost they conclude that neonicotinoids ‘may’ harm bees. Do they go to the law to better understand their responsibilities? Hardly.They go to the law instead to find a way to avoid those very responsibilities, and in all likelihood were complicit in the creation of those loopholes in the first place. Rather than revisit their failed decision making they instead have to be sued to get them to do their job.

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League of Women Voters, Minnesota takes a position on the neonics

This Briefing Paper from the Minnesota League of Women Voters is an excellent overview of many of the questions surrounding the the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Take the time to read it in its entirety and it will help put some of the controversy in perspective.

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Click the logo to read the PDF

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David Hackenberg questions seed coatings

June Stoyer and I interviewed David Hackenberg about seed treatments on The Neonicotinoid View the day after his suit was filed against the EPA.

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