Minnesota cities to Congress: Let us help the bees

Research shows that neonicotinoids can harm bees
Research shows that neonicotinoids, a common pesticide, can harm bees.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News

The new federal farm bill could force several Minnesota cities to stop banning a pesticide that can harm bee populations.

A final version of the farm bill, which would replace the one expiring at the end of September, is still under debate in a House-Senate conference committee. But the House version of the bill included a provision that would bar cities from placing stricter regulations on pesticides.

Shorewood, Eden Prairie, White Bear Lake, South St. Paul, Minneapolis, Andover, Lake Elmo, Maplewood, Mendota Heights and others have banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on public property following University of Minnesota research showing the pesticides can harm bees. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also said the pesticides can harm bees in some cases.

Shorewood, located in the western Twin Cities suburbs, is among 60 cities that signed a letter, including five in Minnesota, urging congressional leaders to reject the provision in the final version of the farm bill. The letter-signing effort was organized by the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

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Mayor Scott Zerby said his city banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on public property several years ago.

"If this was something that even had a possibility of helping the bee population survive, we thought it was a good idea," he said.

Zerby said the city has also planted clover on city parkland to help bees. He hopes those working on the farm bill will take the provision out and preserve cities' ability to pass laws that make sense for them.

"It gives residents, citizens the ability to look at their area on a very specific level, down to the smallest details and make the choices that they know best for their area. I don't think a federal government understands the complexity that's going on in our particular area, as well as the state, to some degree," he said.

The language on pesticide regulations is just one of hundreds of details in play as House and Senate negotiators work on a final farm bill that can be voted on and sent to the president.