Z Environment

Help Stop the Insect Apocalypse by Protecting Pollinators and Native Biodiversity

Bee Fly on Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata). (Photo: Jenni Simmon)

By Rod Simmons, Natural Resource Manager, Mary Farrah, Natural Resources Field Inspector, and Oscar Mendoza, Natural Resources Division Chief

Alexandria, VA – There are many ways homeowners and property managers can protect pollinators and enhance native biodiversity in their landscapes.  Perhaps the most important of these is to cease applying any chemicals to one’s property, including lawn fertilizers which destroy soil microorganisms by nutrient loading and feeding pathogens.

Soil microorganisms, insects, and native plants are the foundation of the ecosystem. Yet the chemical industry has spawned the widespread practice of applying environmentally damaging pesticides to lawns, gardens, orchards, cropland, nursery stock, and other agricultural commodities by effectively marketing their chemical products as necessary for the proper management of cultivated land, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary by scientists and watchdog organizations.

The Nitty Gritty

Neonicotinoids, such as imidacloprid, are systemic neurotoxins that act on the central nervous system of insects.  They were developed in the mid-1990s and are now the most widely used insecticide class in the U.S., making agricultural practices 50 times more harmful to insects and wildlife than they were 30 years ago (PLoS One 2019).  Neonicotinoids also persist for years in groundwater and soil, making them especially environmentally hazardous.

Neonicotinoid products like Season Long Grub Control Plus Turf Revitalizer, Green Light® Tree & Shrub Insect Control with Safari® 2 G Insecticide, and countless others are all too commonly available at garden centers and are being indiscriminately and unnecessarily applied across the landscape.  Products containing any of the following, Acetamiprid, Clothianidin, Dinotefuran, Imidacloprid, Nitenpyram, Thiocloprid, and Thiamethoxam, are neonicotinoids.

It is a common practice for greenhouses and nurseries supplying garden centers to treat flowering annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees with systemic neonicotinoids.  Systemic pesticides are absorbed by plants and persist in plant tissue for long periods of time, thereby killing pollinators and other insects who nectar on the flowers or feed on plant tissue.  In effect, many popular ornamentals sold at garden centers are potentially deadly attractants to a myriad of wildlife.  Therefore, it is important to ask the retailer for documentation if neonicotinoids or other pesticides were applied by the grower.  If the retailer doesn’t know, purchase plants from a seller who does not stock plants treated with neonicotinoids.

Botanical insecticides, such as rotenone, pyrethrins, neem, citronella, and others, are also toxic to pollinators and other wildlife and spraying or fogging for mosquito and insect control indiscriminately kills a wide array of wildlife, including pollinators.  Marketing efforts and corporate talking points correctly state that these pesticides are regulated and approved for use by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but that doesn’t mean they are without any negative environmental consequences.  We know the specific pyrethroids that these companies use such as bifenthrin, deltamethrin, and permethrin are all highly toxic to bees, killing them on contact and for one or more days after treatment, a fact the EPA itself acknowledges.  There is no way for companies to spray these broad-spectrum insecticides in your yard without also killing other insects they come in contact with, including bees, butterflies, fireflies, caterpillars, dragonflies, and other beneficial insects, along with the mosquitos. (National Wildlife Federation).

The best way to ensure a healthy home and garden environment is to avoid the use of any pesticides, fungicides, and lawn chemicals like fertilizers which, in turn, will help restore balance and health to the interconnected complex of soils, plants, and wildlife.

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