Dozens attend memorial for bees killed by insecticide

Dozens attend memorial for bees killed by insecticide
Dozens attended a funeral for the nearly 50,000 bees that died after being exposed to an insecticide in trees outside a Wilsonville Target store. (KATU photo)

WILSONVILLE, Ore. – Dozens of people attended a funeral outside a Wilsonville Target store for thousands of bees that died after they were exposed to a common insecticide earlier this month.

More than 50,000 bees dropped dead from trees outside the store. They were exposed to an insecticide called Safari, bee experts said on Wednesday.

“We just want to get the message out there that bees are vital to humans,” said Justin Wozniak, who helped organize the memorial on Sunday. “Without bees, there would be no pollination, and without pollination we wouldn’t have many of the foods we eat on a daily basis.”

Several people spoke to those who attended the funeral, and many wrote down their prayers for the bees on pieces of paper.

“A lot of people understand the importance of the bees and why they shouldn’t be killed off by pesticides,” Wozniak said. “If we can’t drink pesticide, why should we feed it to the bees?”

The state temporarily banned the use of 18 pesticides on all plants and trees Thursday. According to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the 18 pesticides contain the active ingredient dinotefuran.

The restriction is for six months. After that time, ODA says it will have determined if the pesticides that killed the bees were used improperly.

The trees were sprayed to control aphids. The property manager had recently hired a private contractor to apply it to the European Linden trees, which produce both nectar and pollen that bees love.

The city of Hillsboro sprayed about 200 trees with the same pesticide in March, but bumblebee deaths were only reported at one tree.

Dan Hilburn, with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said by phone earlier this week that he'd never seen a die-off like this.

"I'm not an expert in pollination, pollinators, but I've been around entomology my entire career, and I've never seen or heard anything like this with bumble bees," he said.

The trees in Wilsonville and the one in Hillsboro were covered with netting to protect more bees from being poisoned.

The city of Portland doesn't use pesticides like Safari on trees in its parks. Instead, it lets natural predators take care of pests.

“We’re trying to accomplish understanding, acknowledgment for the importance of the bees,” Wozniak said. “We can preach here all day long, and it doesn’t mean anything unless people are enthusiastic enough to actually go out and do something about it, because there’s not that many bees left on the face of the Earth.”