Shorewood passes state's first 'bee-safe' policy

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 2, 2014 - 6:38 AM

Suburb will plant clover, avoid certain pesticides.

In the growing movement to better protect honeybees, Shorewood has become the first city in Minnesota — and, leaders say, the third city in the nation — to pass a policy encouraging planting bee-friendly flowers and restricting certain pesticides.

This week, the City Council unanimously approved the “bee-safe” resolution, vowing to refrain from using systemic pesticides, including neonicotinoids — the most widely applied insecticides in the world, which can be lethal to insects, but not to humans and mammals. The west metro suburb also is planting clover, which can provide nectar and pollen for bees, in three city parks. And they hope other metro area cities follow suit.

“This should be exciting for Minnesota,” said Patricia Hauser, a resident who pushed for the policy. “This is a big win for pollinators and bees.”

As concern over the drastic decline of bees grows across the country, she and other residents in the small Lake Minnetonka community have banded together to urge people to plant and take care of lawns without harming bees.

While there is much debate over the role that neonicotinoids play in the bee die-off, Shorewood hasn’t ever used the chemicals on city property. But, Mayor Scott Zerby said, the policy ensures that the city doesn’t use the chemicals in the future and helps educate the community about creating pollinator-friendly habitats.

“In Shorewood, we take a lot of pride in being innovative,” he said. “In a way, we’re restoring the environment to be more bee-friendly.”

Earlier this year, city leaders sent a letter of support to the state Legislature before it passed a law forbidding nurseries to put a “bee-friendly” label on plants containing neonicotinoids.

And it’s not the first time the city has been ahead of the curve. More than a decade ago, Shorewood and Minneapolis were the first in the state to ban selling lawn fertilizer with phosphorus, spurring bans in other cities and then a state law.

Now, Hauser, a retired schoolteacher, and her husband, Jeff Dinsmore, a retired engineer, hope that Shorewood can do the same with its “bee-safe” city policy. Since January, the couple has encouraged residents and the city not to use pesticides that harm bees, handing out bright yellow lawn signs in exchange for those who take the pledge.

“That’s a huge win, and we hope people across the country see that,” said Hauser, whose passion for the issue extended to offering to stop at each council member’s house to show them a video on the bee die-off. “We tried to be persistent without bugging them to death — pardon the pun.”

Beekeepers across the country are losing a fourth to a third of their hives each winter — a dramatic decline that has exposed bees as a fragile link in the nation’s food supply chain. U.S. agriculture depends on bees to pollinate $15 billion worth of crops annually — a third of the food we eat.

The crisis hit the Shorewood couple after they lost some bees in their own hive. So in January, they started the group Humming for Bees. Since then, they have stirred up more than just a buzz. At churches, schools, farmers markets, nature centers and neighborhoods, they’ve spread the word about the bees’ plight and how people can help.

Now, the group is paying for, planting and watering clover seeds in vacant areas of Cathcart, Freeman and South Shore skate parks. The city will take over watering, which it would’ve done anyway, making the cost minimal, Zerby said.

“This is not the complete answer, but this is a very big step,” Hauser added. “We want the whole state to be bee-safe, the whole country to be bee-safe, the whole world to be bee-safe. Even if we start small, we can be part of the change.”

 

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141

Twitter: @kellystrib

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