Mares: The Bee Bill

Apr 18, 2019

A proposed new law with 60+ co-sponsors to address neonicitinoid pesticide use in Vermont has certainly struck an ecological nerve. Bill H-205 responds to the perils facing all pollinators these days, including stress, climate change, forage loss, narrowed genetic pool, pesticides, and pathogens.

In addition to the increased pesticide regulation, the first version of the bill sought to establish a program to certify beekeepers, hire a state pollination specialist, and tighten inspection of imported bees.

We at Vermont Beekeepers Association (VBA) welcomed the effort to protect the forty-million dollars of Vermont's agriculture dependent upon honey bees, and indeed all endangered pollinators. But we thought the first draft was too weak in some areas and too over-bearing in others. For example, the bill exempted so-called "treated" agricultural seeds and pet products, which constitute the two biggest economic uses of neonicintinoids.

For another, it proposed a large state program to educate and certify all the roughly 900 beekeepers in the state, when much of these activities are already provided by the VBA to its members. (Registration is required by law, although as in everything, a minority unaccountably refuse.)

But as the bill moved through the House and on to the Senate, it improved, including a provision for the state to collaborate with the VBA in beekeeping education.

When four of us testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee, I pleaded for the retention of an inspector, full-time if possible - the very heart of the State's beekeeping industry web. First instituted 110 years ago during another national bee crisis as our first line of defense against diseased bees, the inspector is the central educator for beekeepers throughout the state - with the vital power to shut down diseased operations that threaten other bees. Without an inspector, good beekeepers are at the mercy of bad beekeepers – because there are, after all, no good fences in beekeeping!

Senators asked polite and probing questions, and we were given enough time to make our best case. We didn't get everything we asked for, but we think some of our advice was heard so we were pleased overall.

And as a former representative myself, I enjoyed being on the other side of the legislative process.