Jul 16

In the News

In Defense of Pollinators: Ontario’s New “Bee Health” Working Group

by Toby Davine

Following the seemingly apocalyptic news that bees are dying off in droves in Canada and around the world,  Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynne, has recently announced that the Ontario government is forming a working group to study bee health. The group, comprised of beekeepers, farmers, agribusiness representatives, scientists, and government officials, will release a plan to protect the insects by next spring.

The Canadian Honey Council has stated that the bee population in Canada has dropped approximately 35 percent in the past three years, costing beekeepers more than $5.2 million. As we have written before, these invaluable insects help cross-pollinate at least 30 percent of the world’s crops and enable 90 percent of our wild plants to thrive. Indeed, the decimation of global bee populations ultimately poses a threat to our global food supply.

Many apiarists and pollinator advocates are pointing to neonicotinoids, a common pesticide used for corn and soybeans, as the source of the wide-spread decline in bee populations. The pesticide has been banned by the European Union due to its connection to bee deaths. Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency is re-evaluating neonicotinoid insecticides, however, their review isn’t expected to be completed until 2018–much too late according to Wynne, who sent a letter to federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq asking that the reporting deadline be “advanced significantly.”

However, while experts in Ontario argue over the best way to save our dwindling bee populations, there are several things you can do at home to help bees and other pollinators thrive:

  • Stop using insecticides to kill pests. This list from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food provides information on the relative toxicity of pesticides to honeybees
  • Leave hedgerows and wild spots on your property undisturbed. These areas provide prime foraging and nesting habitats. While some pollinators build nests underground in the soil, others will chose dead tree trunks or hollow stems.
  • Plant a variety of native plant species on your property that will bloom at different times over the season, including herbaceous plants (e.g., alfalfa, sunflowers), trees (e.g., alders, willows, and fruit trees),  shrubs (e.g., elderberry), and aromatic herbs (e.g., thyme, borage, and chives). A great resource for creating better pollinator habitats can be found here.

The business of declining bee health is undoubtedly complicated and is unlikely to be fixed with a single ban on specific pesticides. However, what is good for our pollinators is also good for our environment as a whole. If you want to get involved in your community, there are numerous groups across Canada, from urban beekeeping to pollinator enthusiasts, that are working to protect our fuzzy friends.