SUNY-ESF

SUNY-ESF pledges to not use bee-toxic pesticides after designation as ‘pollinator friendly campus’

Audra Linsner | Contributing Illustrator

The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry has become the first SUNY campus to acquire “pollinator friendly” designation that is assigned by the BEE Protective Campaign.

After tending to his garden for over two decades, Chuck Carpenter, grounds supervisor at SUNY-ESF, has noticed something strange happening in his backyard: Pollinating honeybees — once a frequent sight — are now seldom seen.

Similar observations have occurred across the country. For over a decade, honeybee populations have been dramatically declining in part because of an increase in the use of synthetic pesticides sprayed on vegetation. Forty-nine percent of honey bee hives experienced losses in the United States from 2014-15, according to a study in the Journal of Apicultural Research.

In response, the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry has become a “pollinator friendly” campus, the first SUNY campus to acquire this designation that is assigned by the BEE Protective Campaign, led by the Center for Food Safety.

The pollinator friendly designation requires the college to forbid the use of pesticides on campus that cause harm to bees. The chemicals identified by the Center for Food Safety as culprits behind bee population decline are nicotine-based insecticides known as neonicotinoids.

These chemicals are systemic, which means plants absorb the chemicals into their vascular tissue, and subsequently pollen, said Melissa Fierke, an associate professor of environmental and forest biology at SUNY-ESF.

Once collected by bees, she added, the chemical is brought to the hive, where it causes tremors, paralysis and death for bees, according to the Center for Food Safety.

“You have habit loss … and now these harmful pesticides,” said Fierke on the status of pollinator species. “Bees are really sensitive to pesticides. They are extremely sensitive to insecticides.”

Although the SUNY-ESF campus only occupies 12 acres of land in Syracuse, the college manages nearly 25,000 additional acres on its regional campuses throughout the rest of New York state.

Given the amount of land under SUNY-ESF’s ownership, Larissa Walker, the Center for Food Safety’s pollinator campaign director, said SUNY-ESF’s commitment to not use neonicotinoid pesticides will have a “significant impact on species in the area, not just bees but many other pollinators and beneficial insects.”

Even before receiving the designation, SUNY-ESF had not used neonicotinoids, or any insecticides, said Carpenter, the SUNY-ESF grounds supervisor. With the college offering several entomology courses, a healthy insect presence on campus is critical, he said.

The Center for Food Safety has granted the pollinator friendly designation to several other colleges and universities in the United States. With SUNY-ESF becoming the first New York state public college to acquire the designation, Walker said she hopes that other SUNY schools will follow suit in banning use of the harmful pesticides.

The Center for Food Safety is a nonprofit organization that works to ensure human and environmental health in regards to industrial agriculture, Walker said. To halt bee population declines, Walker said, strong policy reform and legal action must be taken.

“Up to 95 percent of all of the corn in this country is treated with a neonicotinoids pesticide, that’s a lot of acreage and a lot of these chemicals we’re using,” Walker said.

In addition to the designation, Carpenter said that he and other SUNY-ESF professors often work together to make the campus more supportive for pollinating species. This includes the establishment of a “no-mow” zone, which is about 8,000 square feet of land spared from flower cutting lawn mowers that is located between Campus Drive and the Oakwood Cemetery, he said.

As a lifelong horticulturalist, Carpenter said he is happy that the college where he is responsible for the grounds has been designated a pollinator friendly campus.

“It’s important to me because of the bee problem,” Carpenter said. “It’s not like people are going to go around and pollinate individual flowers themselves.”

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