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News / Northwest

Thousands of dead bumble bees found in Oregon

The Columbian
Published: June 20, 2013, 5:00pm

WILSONVILLE, Ore. — Thousands of dead and dying bees have been found in the parking lot of a shopping center in Wilsonville, Ore., southwest of Portland. Oregon officials say their preliminary investigation indicates blooming trees in the lot were recently sprayed with an insecticide known to be toxic to bees.

Rich Hatfield, a biologist with the Portland-based Xerces (ZERK-zees) Society for Invertebrate Conservation estimates at least 25,000 bumble bees have been killed. Shoppers called Hatfield on Monday to report the carnage, the Xerces Society said in a statement. The bees were clustered under dozens of linden trees.

Dan Hilburn, plant programs director at the state Agriculture Department, visited the parking lot Wednesday. He confirmed “thousands of dead bees.”

“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Hilburn said.

Most of the dead were gold-and-black bumble bees although honey bees and some ladybugs were found dead as well.

A primary focus of the Agriculture Department’s preliminary investigation is a pesticide called Safari that apparently was applied in the area last Saturday to control aphids, said Dale Mitchell, program manager in the Agriculture Department’s pesticide compliance and enforcement section.

Safari is part of a family of pesticides called neonicotinoids that are considered acutely toxic to pollinators.

Mitchell noted that approved pesticide products carry very specific hazard labels.

Bee and vegetation samples were taken for testing to confirm what’s responsible for the kill, Mitchell said. His investigation will look at any potential pesticide use in the vicinity.

Bumble bees play a crucial role in pollinating berries, flowers and other plants.

“Honey bees and bumble bees were arriving as we were there, and bees are still dying,” Hilburn said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening.

He planned a conference call Thursday with researchers and Xerces Society officials. Possibilities include netting the trees, stripping them of their flowers and using non-toxic repellents to keep the bees away.

“We’re not coming up with a lot of good options,” Hilburn said.

With the investigation just beginning, Mitchell declined to identify the property management company responsible for the area. Even if lab tests confirm the pesticide as a cause of the bee kill, it might have been applied by a subcontractor or other party, he said.

The agency would also investigate whether the pesticide was used according to label instructions and whether it was applied in a faulty, careless or negligent manner, Mitchell said.

If violations are found, Agriculture Department civil penalties could range from a standard maximum of $1,000 per violation to a maximum of $10,000 per violation for gross negligence or willful misconduct, Mitchell said.