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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Minn. state agencies develop protection for honey bees

  • Two state agencies in Minnesota are taking steps to protect the beleaguered honey bee population.
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  • Two state agencies in Minnesota are taking steps to protect the beleaguered honey bee population.
    The Minnesota Department of Agriculture will give the Legislature a report on Wednesday outlining a plan to study the use of a popular category of insecticides linked to bee deaths. The Department of Natural Resources is developing separate guidelines to improve habitat for the pollinating insects, which are critical to agriculture.
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that more than a third of the nation's honey bee population has died in each of the last several years.
    Scientists say one reason is because there are fewer flowering plants on the landscape, which affects insect nutrition. Bees also suffer from persistent disease problems. Another serious threat is neonicotinoid insecticides, which are used to protect corn and other crops but are also commonly used in urban settings.
    University of Minnesota bee expert Marla Spivak, who is working with a new team of university scientists looking for answers, told Minnesota Public Radio (http://bit.ly/1m4VvMH ) that protecting pollinating insects will be a daunting task.
    "I just spent the morning with a bunch of epidemiologists here on the chalk board," Spivak said. "By lunch time they're looking at this thing and going, 'Oh my God, where do we begin?'"
    Spivak said a growing body of scientific evidence shows that pollinating insects are affected by low levels of insecticides. But scientists still aren't sure how much insecticide bees are exposed to as they travel from plant to plant.
    The Legislature last year ordered the agriculture department to develop a process for reviewing the safety of neonicotinoids, which also protect soybeans and sugarbeets, and are commonly used on greenhouse plants. The insecticides are absorbed by plant roots, leaves and pollen. The report will outline how the year-long review will proceed.
    "This has been such an issue, a contentious issue, that I just think it's incumbent on the Department of Agriculture to take a very serious look at it," Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said.
    Frederickson said changes in how the insecticides are used will be made only if the science strongly proves a risk to pollinators.
    DNR officials are developing guidelines for managing habitat to best provide food and protection for pollinating insects. Wildlife Habitat Program Manager Bob Welsh said new best management practices might mean changing when grassland is burned or mowed or adding more plants that are good food sources for pollinators.

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