Bill Buzz: Minnesota Pollinator Protections Near Finish Line

The Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, one of many in Minnesota

Tony Webster

Good news for Minnesota’s bees could be on the way. But how sweet that news is (pun intended), will all depend on how state legislators vote in the final weeks of this year’s legislative session.

At the top of the list is a ban on using bee-toxic neonicotinoid insecticides or “neonics” in Minnesota’s 1.3-million acre Wildlife Management Area (WMA) system. The system—created nearly 70 years ago to address an alarming loss of wildlife habitat—is today one of the largest and most-used in the nation and a critical refuge for pollinators from neonics.

Not only are neonics toxic to bees and other wildlife (like birds and deer), they also hang around in the environment where they can easily contaminate water and be absorbed by wild plants and flowers, making them poisonous to pollinators. And because neonics are the most popular insecticides in the U.S.—used extensively on farms, golf courses, home gardens, pet collars… you name it—that means they’re virtually everywhere in large portions of the country.

The state’s current informal policy keeps neonics out of Minnesota’s WMAs, making them some of the few places left that pollinators can count on for clean food and shelter. But just as with the federal government, protections provided by state agency policies are unreliable because they easily can (and often do) change according to the whims of each new administration. Fortunately, provisions in both the state House and Senate environmental “omnibus” bills (i.e., bills addressing a wide range of environmental issues) keep Minnesota’s WMAs safe for bees by turning the existing and effective neonic-ban policy into law.

But work remains to be done. While members of both houses deserve credit for stepping up for bees, the current version of the Senate bill would cap the ban at only five years. And while we’d like to believe bees won’t need the help by then—it is no doubt vital that lawmakers make these protections permanent and keep Minnesota’s WMAs a safe haven for bees indefinitely.

The rusty patched bumble bee

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Other pollinator-friendly initiatives approaching the finish line include:

  • The “Lawns to Legumes” cost share program that provides Minnesotans with financial assistance for to increase backyard wildflower forage for pollinators;
  • Allowing Minnesota’s four largest cities to work with the state department of agriculture to protect pollinators through local pesticide ordinances;
  • Designating the recently endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee as Minnesota’s “state bee;”
  • Increasing funding for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) incentives that include enhanced pollinator habitat; and
  • Prohibiting the labeling of plants as “pollinator friendly” if they’ve been treated with a neonic or other bee-toxic systemic insecticide.

All of these provisions appear in House versions of various state “omnibus” bills, but, unfortunately, haven’t made it into the Senate versions of the same bills. Because the legislature will ultimately need to agree on the same language, we urge Minnesota legislators to come together in support of these pro-pollinator provisions. While combating the state pollinator crisis will need continued year-after-year work, these policies provide a solid and much-needed step in the right direction.

About the Authors

Daniel Raichel

Staff Attorney, Pollinator Initiative, Wildlife Division, Nature Program

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