DENVER — A bill introduced in the Colorado State Legislature seeks to limit the use of some pesticides in the state in order to protect people and pollinating insects.
SB 22-131, known as the Protect Health of Pollinators and People bill, would restrict the use of neonicotinoid insecticides to specialized individuals, as well as create a pilot program to study the decline of bee populations in Colorado.
“Bees are dying off at an alarming rate,” said Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Boulder, a sponsor of the bill. “Without pollinators, we don’t have Colorado agriculture. And if we don’t have pollinators, we don’t have food.”
According to the USDA, pollinators, like bees, are responsible for one in every three bites of food we take. They increase the crop values in the United States by more than $15 billion every year.
“We really need to address what chemicals are killing off bees,” Jaquez Lewis said.
In a hearing for the bill Thursday, more than 90 people signed up to speak during public comment, with both supporters and opponents present.
Studies on the dangers of neonicotinoids have yielded mixed results. However, a large-scale field study in France found that exposure to the pesticides was associated with increased death among bees, according to the Pollinator Network at Cornell University. They have been largely banned across Europe, and the EPA has recommended limiting measures on their use in the U.S.
Several groups in Colorado have taken matters into their own hands to protect pollinators. The Native Bee Watch program through Colorado State University is one of them. The program connects volunteers with educational material to equip them to identify and track the more than 900 species of bees that live in Colorado, a vital step to better understanding the current situation and recognizing which need to be added to the endangered species list.
“Bee diversity is so important,” said Lisa Mason, founder of Native Bee Watch. “We don’t really understand how much of a risk they’re at, so that brings in the importance of doing research.”
Mason said the trained volunteers have been effective and accurate in identifying and tracking Colorado bees, and together are coming up with solutions to protect them. She said simple acts like planting pollinator-friendly flowers and providing fresh water in gardens can go a long way in improving bee health.
“If we think about all the benefits we have from plants in our ecosystems and around our home, we have pollinators to thank for that,” Mason said.
The bill ended up being postponed indefinitely on a 6-1 vote.