I first heard of neonics from Lackawanna Backyard Beekeepers president Renee Czubowicz. She explained that not only do neonics (a class of insecticide known as neonicotinoids) kill bees when they come in contact with a plant treated with the insecticide, neonics also harm bees when they come in contact with a plant that grew from a seed that was treated with the insecticide. Because of this harm to insect pollinators, which nurture the growth of 75 percent of all crops, Europe “severely restricts” (essentially bans) three types of neonics for outdoor use. To me, a U.S. ban around the corner would be a slam dunk.
But recently, Turf, a trade magazine, arrived in my mailbox. In it, editor-at-large Ronnie Hall expresses concern that the EPA might eventually follow not only Europe, but also various states and municipalities in the U.S. and restrict the use of neonics. In his editorial, Hall is not concerned that farmers would lose a tool in their toolbox, and food shortages would result. Instead, Hall is concerned that “Acme” GreenChem would no longer be able to prevent “unacceptable damage to a client’s lawn, ornamentals or trees.” So Mrs. Green-Thumb’s prized roses and Mr. Green-Chem’s prized monoculture maintenance business are more important than the ecological foodweb.
In fairness to Mr. Hall, he is not promoting a “To Hell with the Bees: Spray First, Ask Questions Later” campaign. In fact, he gives six qualifications to guide professionals away from using neonics or any other insecticide in an industry-recognized irresponsible manner.
My concern is not whether Czubowicz or Hall might be right or wrong about every detail surrounding the bees, the trees and the industries. My concern is that there are two different approaches to life represented by Hall and Czubowicz, and I think those two approaches can get drowned out in the debate. Turf’s Ronnie Hall is concerned that Mr. Green-Chem might not be able to sell life support to Mrs. Green-Thumb for her Japanese flowering cherry, a tree that is planted strictly for decoration and is ecologically misplaced in the first place. I occasionally sympathize with Mr. Hall’s libertarian ideals, and certainly, Mrs. Green-Thumb should be allowed to decorate her property with all manner of Japanese plants. But when Mrs. Green-Thumb’s Japanese arboretum impacts the ecology of Mrs. Green-Thumb’s neighborhood and beyond, there is cause for concern.
If we begin following Mr. Hall’s recommendations, neonic use would decrease. But we would also have to trust an industry that stands to profit from increased use. In contrast to Mr. Hall, however, I’d like to see society change its question from “what do I need to kill so my lawn and trees can live?” to “what kind of lawn and trees will benefit all life?” Nurturing life, however, may look different and generate less revenue than subordinating it.
Reach me at email@example.com.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business.