June 11, 2021

Bee pollinating a wild rock rose in Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

By Ramona du Houx

New law implements strongest statewide restriction in the United States on neonicotinoid use  

The beauty of the state’ s landscapes with fields of wildflowers, the greenery and natural spaces are a significant reason why people visit and live in Maine. But the declining health of pollinators such as honeybee and wild bees is cause for great concern, globally, and can hint at broader environmental challenges that can affect all life in the area.

Almost 90 percent of wild plants and 75 percent of all food crops need animal pollinators to some extent to thrive, and of all pollinators, bees are nature’s best. In Maine broccoli, strawberries, squash and wild blueberries and potato crops rely heavily on bees.

That’s what helped to govern, Governor Janet Mills to sign the nation’s strongest restriction on bee-killing neonicotinoids (neonics) into law. LD 155, sponsored by Rep. Nicole Grohoski of Ellsworth, prohibits the use of the most harmful neonic pesticides in residential landscapes. The bill won bipartisan support in the Maine State Legislature, which passed it on June 7, 2021.

Neonics are insecticides that affect the central nervous system and are highly toxic to invertebrates, including bees and butterflies. These systemic chemicals, when absorbed into a plant, contaminate nectar and pollen and remain in soil and groundwater long after they’re applied. A significant body of scientific evidence links neonic use to massive bee population losses, threatening not only honeybee colonies, but also Maine’s 270 species of native bees.

“There is no justification for using these pesticides for cosmetic purposes in our residential areas; a prettier lawn or rose garden isn’t worth the damage done,” said Anya Fetcher, Environment Maine state director. “We want to ensure that today, tomorrow and the next day, Maine’s meadows and gardens continue to buzz with the sound of bees. This bill boosts the odds of that, and we’re grateful.”  

Several other states have passed legislation restricting the use of neonics by residents and removing products containing the specified chemicals from store shelves. However, Maine’s bill goes even further by including licensed applicators such as landscapers, gardeners and pest control businesses in the ban.

“I am thankful to my colleagues in the Legislature for supporting this measure,” said Rep. Grohoski. “Maine should be proud that, yet again, we are leaders in protecting and preserving our environment, including our pollinator populations.”

Support for protecting pollinators and significantly restricting the use of neonics is widespread. More than 10,500 Maine residents have signed a petition asking state policymakers to support legislation to ban problematic uses of neonics in Maine. A coalition of more than 60 beekeeper, scientific, public health, farming and environmental organizations have signed a letter in support of this legislation.