Oregon suspects insecticide in Eugene bee die-off

EUGENE, Ore. — A restricted chemical used to kill aphids so they and their waste don’t make a sticky mess on vehicles in parking lots is suspected in a bee die-off at a Eugene apartment complex, a state Agriculture Department spokesman says.

Investigators found hundreds of dead bumblebees and honeybees after a tree care company sprayed 17 lindens in bloom Tuesday for an aphid infestation.

The company used a pesticide of the type that killed thousands of bees last year around a Wilsonville parking lot, spokesman Bruce Pokarney told The Register-Guard. After that, the state toughened restrictions on the chemicals.

The Eugene trees are heavy with yellow blossoms, and bees can be expected to keep returning to them, said arborist and beekeeper Doug Hornaday.

Considering more bees likely died after they flew away, the toll is likely higher than was evident, said Lisa Arkin, executive director of a group based in Eugene, Beyond Toxics.

“Some of them were quivering and in convulsions,” she said. “It was awful to behold. We didn’t know whether to put them out of their misery or just walk on.”

Glass Tree Care and Spray Service is cooperating in the investigation.

“We hold ourselves to the highest business and applicator standards, and take this matter very seriously,” company President J.P. Mischkot said in an email to the newspaper.

Pokarney said insecticides have been used in parking lots to keep aphids from dropping onto vehicles, where the pests can create what Pokarney called “really kind of an unsightly thing.”

Until last year, tree spray companies liked to use dinotefuran and imidacloprid, in a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids.

After the Wilsonville incident, the state restricted the use of the two neonicotinoids on linden and related trees.

In February, the Eugene City Council banned the pesticides from city property, winning the city the “America’s most bee-friendly city” honor.

The ban, however, doesn’t apply to private property.

Pokarney said the department has briefed everybody with state pesticide licenses on restrictions on using the chemicals on Linden trees.

“We know they used imidacloprid,” he said.

“There is every reason for us to believe that they should have been aware that they shouldn’t use this when there’s blooms, when there’s bees and on linden trees,” he said.

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