In Salem State Tax Court, Old Sol Apiaries owner John Jacob won one for bees. John had leased the property of LeRoy & Nancy Wehdes’ for an apiary site but Jackson County disallowed the bees as livestock and part of the property as qualifying for bee pasture. Their projected tax bill jumped from $100 to $1000, more than John was paying for leasing rights. The County Tax Assessor, and subsequently Jackson County Court, ruled the property could be put to better use than as bee pasture.
Having won an earlier County court case, John and the Wehdes appealed to the Tax Court and after a one-day trail (Aug 2013) the court last month ruled in favor of the bees. John called the decision “…. good for beekeepers, pollinators, landowners, and Oregon’s agricultural economy. We now have at least two legal precedents in Oregon that demonstrate beekeeping is an acceptable farm use.” (See report in upcoming OSBA Bee Line & American Bee Journal).
One of our arguments John and I (as “expert” witness) both used when we testified for the bees in State Tax Court was that John’s bees (indeed all bees) need a “time out,” a break from commercial agriculture and the exposure to pesticides used by farmers. I pointed out that Jackson County’s argument that the land could be put to better use than as bee pasture would likely mean increased pesticide usage and increased danger to the bees. This argument helped win the day.
I was an “expert” witness to a pesticide damage to bees court case back East shortly before moving to Oregon. In that trial, the apple grower had clearly violated the law by applying a pesticide highly toxic to bees during apple bloom. Still we had an uphill battle to convince the judge that the bees have value, something we needed also do in the Salem Tax Court case. That eastern case also was decided in favor of the beekeeper but the damages did not compensate for the loss for the rest of the season, merely replacement of the lost bees.
That beekeeper was fortunate as too few beekeepers receive anything when bees are excluded from clean pasture sites or are killed by a pesticide, often applied by a landowner or farmer besides the one providing the apiary space. That was the case last March when there was loss of bees, including some Or bees, towards the end of almond bloom. Some 80,000 total colonies were affected in that poisoning incident; most colonies were not killed but many lost a generation of brood rearing when an Insect Growth Regulator (IGR) was added to the tank when a fungicide was applied. None of those beekeepers received a penny in compensation.
In Oregon I am hopeful that we are making some progress in helping bees both avoid sudden, pesticide-related losses and in doing something to help the beekeeper. The OR Governor’s Task Force on Bee Health, chaired by Ramesh Sagili of OSU and including beekeeper George Hansen, followed closely by Fred van Natta of WVBA, completed their report before the holidays and now, hopefully, the OR legislature will enact on the recommendations and do some things to help the bees. [A Task Force on GMOs also finished their work before the holidays and the Governor has already sent items related to it to the spring legislative session, due to begin next month]
We are also fortunate that the OR Department Agriculture, partly in response to a mysterious June bee loss in the Cascades foothills (I will have article on this investigation in upcoming Bee Culture magazine) and two springs with bumble bee massacres at Linden tree blooms, has developed a pesticide screen in their pesticide lab in Portland to quickly analyze suspect kills to OR colonies. Additionally ODA had a workshop for their pesticide investigators in Salem in August. They are making progress.
I was struck by follow up to beekeepers reporting a pesticide kill in Switzerland compared to follow up to kills U.S. beekeepers experience. Swiss apple growers had applied a fungicide toward the end of apple bloom that ended up killing several hundred bee colonies The Swiss authorities promptly took samples and then traced backwards. The offending pesticide, Fipronil, had been packed for U.S. sale in Israel using the same equipment (apparently without proper cleaning) that was then used to fill the fungicide containers subsequently shipped to Switzerland. Beekeepers were awarded damages. If only U.S. incidents were so thoroughly investigated.
Whatever the next year brings, I hope you don’t have such a sudden bee loss in southern Oregon due to a pesticide. Now in our “down” time, as we reflect on this past year and look toward the coming bee season, take a page from John. If you do suspect a loss don’t simply take it lying down. Report losses to the Pollination Stewardship Council www.pollinatorstewardship.org , they did follow up on the almond losses this past spring, EPA (Environmental Protection agency), our federal watchdog agency charged with protecting non-target beneficials like pollinating bees (firstname.lastname@example.org), the National Pesticide Council’s Ecological Pesticide Incident Reporting at Oregon state (email@example.com) and to Oregon Department of Agriculture (www.oregon.gov/oda/programs/Pesticides/). Unfortunately, the 4 agencies are not communicating with each other the way they should so notices to all 4 need be made. As responsible bee stewards, we need speak up for the bees. They deserve nothing less.