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Our Turn: N.H. bee populations are in trouble, and the way forward

  • A bumble bee works on a flowering white bush at the State House. Monitor file

Published: 3/14/2021 1:00:14 PM

New Hampshire is a beautiful state and as residents we are incredibly blessed to live here and have the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty that attracts tourists and supports our economy.

Despite the bucolic appearance of our landscape, upon close investigation we find an ecosystem in trouble. New Hampshire’s biodiversity is threatened by a variety of factors including habitat loss, climate change, pollution, invasive species and harmful pesticides.

New Hampshire’s native pollinators and domestic honey bees are responsible for one in three bites of food that we eat. University of New Hampshire scientists have found a drastic decline in three of our native bumblebees and a significant decline in a fourth type of bumblebee. Of those, the rusty patched bumble bee is thought to be locally extinct. The Bee Informed Partnership reports 2019/20 total winter all colony losses of 47.73% in New Hampshire, higher than our neighboring states of Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts and the second highest losses of all states surveyed. Summer losses reached record highs nationwide in 2020. Various environmental stressors affect pollinators, including disease and parasites. Exposure to pesticides like the widely used neonicotinoid class, causes both lethal and sub-lethal effects, and makes bees more vulnerable to parasites and disease.

Pesticides harm our pollinators, ecosystems, and also our health. These toxic chemicals affect children’s brain development, interfere with hormone function, and cause cancer and other diseases.

Some will argue that we need synthetic pesticides to protect our crops and manage landscapes, but what if there is a safe alternative that does not rely on toxic materials, and can help address some of the issues mentioned at the outset, like habitat loss, invasive species, and even climate change? It’s called organic, and it’s already being used successfully here in New Hampshire by farmers and landscaping professionals.

By expanding access to education about organic practices our state can become a leader in protection of its people, pollinators and environment.

Scientists have found that the abundance of beneficial soil microbes are negatively impacted by pesticides. Healthy soil can play a vital role in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. By using organic practices coupled with regenerative principles on our farms, and organic land care standards in our parks, yards and gardens, we can use our land as a carbon sink.

Research also finds that organic farming boosts local economies. Organic farmers get higher prices for their produce and end up with higher profits. We already have well over 100 organic farms operating in the state.

The NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care can guide us in choosing native plants, managing invasive species and caring for our landscapes without toxic chemicals or synthetic fertilizers, and to focus on soil health. These practices benefit pollinators, wildlife, water and air quality for our state.

The damage of using synthetic chemicals in the soil, water and air takes many years to be undone, but it is possible. The very heart of our state, the seed, soil, water, air and pollinators need our protection.

Let’s work to educate on the benefits of organic farming and land care. One thing is true for New Hampshire people: we take pride in our state’s beauty and healthy foods we produce. Let’s make them free of harmful pesticides and protect our current and future generations natural resources with organic practices.

(Diana Carpinone is an accredited organic land care professional and president of Non Toxic New Hampshire. Fawn Gaudet is a teacher with NH Save Our Pollinators Coalition.)

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