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No Bumblebees Had to Die; Aphids are Easy to Control

Mike has a timely conversation with You Bet Your Garden producer Alexis Landis about the recent massive kill-off of bumblebees in Portland…

Alexis: Mike, I know you had a different topic planned for this week's Question, but the recent mass killing of bumblebees in Portland, Oregon has a lot of people really upset. What can you tell us about what happened?

Mike: As soon as I heard about this (from a listener), I called Rich Hatfield, an Endangered Species Conservation Biologist for the Xerces Society, a group dedicated to protecting pollinators and other invertebrates. Their headquarters is in Portland, where the incident took place. It happened on a Saturday, and when Rich and his co-workers came into the office on Monday morning, there were several phone messages waiting from concerned citizens who had tried to reach them over the weekend.

A: What were they saying?

M: That bees were literally falling out of the trees in a local parking lot. Rich went to the scene and found thousands of dead bees on the ground, with more still falling out of the trees.

A: What did he do?

M: He immediately called the Oregon Department of Agriculture, whose response, he says, was really impressive. They came out right away, saw the carnage, tested some dead bees, and quickly identified the pesticide that was responsible. The trees were then covered with netting to try and prevent more bees from reaching them. Rich praised the Ag department's response; they clearly took the situation very seriously—as they should; this massive kill-off is near important agricultural areas that rely on the pollination these bees provide. Or at least used to provide….

A: What kind of trees were involved? And what exactly happened?

M: The parking lot contains around 55 lindens, which Jeff Meyer's "The Tree Book" (Scribner; 2004) describes as "an excellent shade tree with unique heart-shaped leaves" and an abundance of fragrant flowers that open in June and "attract a large following of honeybees." Beekeepers love having these trees around. Rich from the Xerces Society told me that a Portland beekeeper says he gets an astounding 50 to 100 pounds of honey from the bloom of a single mature linden tree!

A: That's amazing—and these wonderful trees are in a parking lot?

M: Yes. It's very ironic. Rich said that before the spraying, the landscaping around this store had been very beneficial for local pollinators and beneficial insects.

A: So someone sprayed the trees…

M: A landscaper hired by the company that manages the property sprayed the trees because they supposedly had aphids. Large numbers of aphids can secrete a sticky black honeydew that, one supposes, people were concerned about dripping onto nearby cars. But the store where this happened said that no one had complained to them about anything like that…

A: It's a Target store, right?

M: Yes, but Rich says they're not to blame. They lease the property, and someone representing the company they lease it from is the one who ordered the spraying.

A: What did they use?



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