Now in My Backyard

I returned home from a weeklong vacation to a rather distressing sight.

[Picture after the cut, but it’s not gory or anything.]

A parking lot with people spreading large nets
Volunteers putting up nets on trees. Photo by Mace Vaughan of the Xerces Society

This is the parking lot of a Target store close to my apartment in Wilsonville, OR. The landscapers used a pesticide to kill aphids that instead killed 50,000 bees. (There are now reports of dead bees in nearby Hillsboro; it’s unclear if the deaths are related.) Well, I’m sure they killed some aphids, too.

This is the largest bee poisoning recorded.

The nets are to prevent future deaths, but I wonder if having so many trees netted is negatively affecting other animals?

(For now, this pesticide and 17 others are temporarily banned in Oregon.)

I’m sure we’ve all heard about the issues bees are facing – Colony Collapse Disorder and all that. This problem is even referenced on the new Netflix season of Arrested Development. It’s something I’ve been vaguely worried about, just as I worry about global warming and dying polar bears and everything else. Seeing the netted trees, though, is a stark reminder that these are real problems with immediate effects. Vague worry doesn’t actually do any good.

My husband and I went to Target today. He suggested the nets aren’t actually doing anything, the damage has been done. But I like them. You can’t avoid them or ignore them. They are a stark reminder of the damage that was done. Even if you are unaware of what actually happened, it’s clear something did.

I suddenly sympathize with people who learn about a tragic event that happened nearby: This didn’t seem like the kind of place that would happen. Wilsonville is a small suburb on the outer reaches of the Portland area. It’s lovely and affluent and a Tree City, USA.

There was a memorial for the bees this past Sunday. I did not attend. Sixty people did, though. The attendees gave speeches and wrote out prayer flags.  On the Wilsonville Bees Memorial Facebook page, group members discuss the issue of pesticides and conspiracy theories about Monsanto. The posts read a little woo-woo at times (this is Portland, after all). It’s easy to want to turn away, and not associate with the “crazies.” Yet it’s comforting to see people care about bees.

Of course, there was/is blowback. Someone created another page on Facebook suggesting there are things more important than bees. I guess that’s true. There’s always something more important, someone who has it worse. But we need bees. Not just for flowers or honey, but for many of the foods we eat.

This image has been making the Internet rounds:

Image from the Xerces Society's "Share the Buzz" campaign.
Image from the Xerces Society’s “Share the Buzz” campaign.

The Xerces Society, also based in Portland, has been working with the city to investigate the bee deaths, and Xerces volunteers put up the nets. They offer some simple ways to help: Donate, contact elected officials, stop using pesticides (especially the one that caused this poisoning, Safari, which is a form of neonicotinoid), report what you see.

It wasn’t naturalists or scientists who saw there were dead bees in the Target parking lot, it was shoppers. Normal people.

3 replies on “Now in My Backyard”

I’m in Beaverton, and I think a couple of them made it to my corner of the world. There was a bee crawling across the floor in my bedroom so I captured it and put it outside. The next morning it was still there, “dazed” (if a bee can be such). The next day was a bumble bee doing the same thing on the sidewalk. So sad. I’m glad that once the shoppers raised the red flag, something was done quickly, albeit too late.

Yeah, there are concerns about dead bees throughout Washington County. I’ve just hear about Hillsboro, but Beaverton wouldn’t be a surprise. This is an issue that double surprises me in that….Oregon should be better about this kind of thing. We’re into organics and all-natural and blah blah blah.

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