Protection of Pollinators

The Regulatory Corner: December 2014

By Robert Leavitt and Charles Moses, Nevada Department of Agriculture

The White House recently announced the first ever honey bee hive on White House grounds. It is located on the White House’s South Lawn. The foraging bees help pollinate the White House’s Kitchen Garden and the honey is used in the White House kitchens[1].


The White House beehive demonstrates the raised awareness of the importance of honey bees and other pollinators at federal and state government levels. The President issued a memorandum on June 20, 2014 creating a federal Pollinator Health Task Force, which is tasked with developing a National Pollinator Health Strategy. The Task Force is co-chaired by the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pollinators include native bees, birds, bats, butterflies, and, as every school kid knows, honey bees. The memorandum summarizes the importance of pollinators to the economy of the United States and concerns about pollinator health. The memorandum lists a number of stressors to pollinator health, including “poor bee nutrition, loss of forage lands, parasites, pathogens, lack of genetic diversity, and exposure to pesticides.”

In particular, the President directed the Task Force to identify “new methods and best practices to reduce pollinator exposure to pesticides” and directed the EPA to “assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bee and other pollinator health and take action, as appropriate, to protect pollinators”. Appropriate action includes encouraging states and tribes to develop and adopt pollinator protection plans. EPA had already taken action to strengthen pollinator protections on selected product labels.

About a year before the Presidential memorandum, the EPA announced it would be developing new label language for neonicotinoid insecticides registered for outdoor sites. On August 15, 2013, the EPA announced the new label language “intended to minimize the exposure to bees and other pollinators”. The label language is required on all products containing clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, or thiamethoxam that have Directions for Use for outdoor foliar use. This includes both outdoor agricultural and non-agricultural uses. It is possible that EPA will extend this label language to additional pesticide products in the future.

The purpose of this new label language is to ensure that applicators are aware of the potential for harming bees when using these products and give practical measures to prevent pollinator harm. The new label language includes a Pollinator Protection Box (Figure 1) and Directions for Use language (Figure 2a and 2b). In addition, the bee icon in the Pollinator Protection Box will be repeated in the label Directions for Use wherever applications might put bees or other pollinators at risk, accompanied by specific pollinator protective application restrictions or mitigating measures. As stated in the Pollinator Protection Box, additional information of protecting bees can be found at the Pesticide Stewardship website at by clicking on Pollinator Protection.

The language in the Pollinator Protection Box is mostly or all advisory. However, the new label language in the Directions for Use is directive. For agricultural uses, the directive label language includes specific beekeeper notification requirements. For crops under contracted pollinator services, the beekeeper providing the pollinator services must be notified no less than 48 hours before the planned application (Figure 2a). For food or feed crops, or commercially grown ornamentals crops that are attractive to pollinators but not under contracted pollinator services, there can be several alternatives, but all are designed to protect pollinators (Figure 2b). Not all requirements are on all labels; it depends on the uses of the particular product. Also, depending on the product’s persistence, some labels will inform about the length of time after application that the product is toxic to bees and for how long after application pollinators must be protected. For non-agricultural uses there are no beekeeper notification requirements but there are specific application timing requirements; for example, “Only apply after all flower petals have fallen off.” In addition, for pesticide labels, descriptions of bee activity, such as “visiting” or “actively visiting” plants in flower, are replaced with the term “foraging.”

The timeframe for this label change is as follows: labels for outdoor uses of the four neonicotinoid products were revised by adding the Pollinator Protection Box and Directions for Use language by October 2013 and that no product could enter the channels of trade without the new labels after February 2014. (Product in the marketplace shipped prior to February 2014 without the new label language can be sold until existing stocks are depleted.)

In addition to the notification requirements in the new label language for the four neonicotinoid insecticides described above, in Nevada, for pesticide applications to agricultural crops, there are currently requirements for licensed pesticide operators to notify beekeepers of the intent to apply any pesticide known to be harmful to bees (Nevada Agricultural Code section 555.470). The notice is to be given to beekeepers managing honey bees on the land to be treated or adjacent land not more than 72 hours and not less than 24 hours before the application is scheduled. The purpose of this notification is to give the beekeepers time to protect their bees (move, cover, etc.). (For certain insecticides [e.g. carbaryl] the notification requirement is more restrictive). For notification to be made, the beekeeper must have previously informed the pest control operator of the location of the beehives. For products and uses to which it applies, the new Directions for Use pollinator protective language could be more restrictive than the current regulatory requirements.

The Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) fully supports the new pollinator protective label language.

NDA Director Jim Barbee says, “We thank Nevada’s pesticide applicators for following these new regulations. Honey bees are important to Nevada agriculture, and proper application of pesticides can benefit both crops and pollinators.”

NDA inspectors will be checking for compliance with the pollinator protective language during routine announced and unannounced inspections of pest control operators. NDA will also investigate all verified complaints alleging pesticide harm to pollinators in both agricultural and non-agricultural settings. To protect pollinators is to protect agriculture and is everyone’s business.

You can see a video on the White House website .


The full text of the memorandum can be found at the White House website by searching for Presidential Memorandum on pollinators.