Portland’s Ordinance to Ban Neonicotinoid Pesticides

echinacea bee

Portland City Council plans to vote on a proposed ordinance to ban neonicotinoid pesticide use on city property. City Council held a hearing on March 25th, 2015, that I was able to attend. The room was full of concerned citizens, scientists, and representatives from local non-profits and organizations – including the Xerces Society, the Audobon Society, Beyond Toxics, and the Center for Biological Diversity. Many people gave testimonies in support of the ordinance and cited over 800 published, peer-reviewed studies connecting neonicotinoid and neonicotinoid-like pesticides to declines in bee health. In large concentrations these pesticides kill pollinators, and in smaller concentrations they have been shown to act as a neurotoxin, impacting bees ability to find forage and find their way home.

There were also several testimonies from those who oppose the ordinance – representatives from 3 pest control companies, and the Oregon Nursery Association. These testimonies maintained that there is not adequate scientific evidence to link these pesticides with bee deaths, and that neonicotinoid pesticides are not toxic to humans and are one of the most important tools available to combat pests such as bedbugs, fleas, ticks, and cockroaches.

This ordinance comes after widespread public concern for recent massive bee deaths occurring after applications of these pesticides in and around the Portland area – in Wilsonville, Eugene, Beaverton.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are a class of systemic pesticides that are taken up into plant tissues, and become toxic to pest insects. They have become widely used since the mid-1990’s, and are very ubiquitous – they are applied as sprays, soil dressings, and seed coatings. They are very common in nursery plants. The problem with them is that they also cause a plant’s pollen and nectar to become toxic to bees and other pollinators. They are becoming increasingly implicated in colony collapse disorder, and overall declines in pollinator diversity and abundance.

These pesticides have been banned in the European Union, and a few cities in the United States have followed suit, including Eugene, Oregon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also banned their use on national wildlife preserves across the country.

City Council will vote on the proposed ordinance on April 1, 2015. You can read the entire text of the ordinance here.

I gave a testimony in support of the ordinance at the hearing last week, and also submitted my written testimony which you can read below:

To Portland City Council,

 Regarding the proposed ordinance on a neonicotinoid pesticide ban on City property.

 My name is Madelyn Morris, and I am a beekeeper, gardener, herbalist, educator, and owner of a small local honey business. I gave my testimony at the hearing on the ordinance on March 25, 2015, and was enthused to see the wide range of support in the room from concerned citizens and scientists alike.

 My passions and my livelihood depend on pollinator health, so this is a topic that is close to my heart. My husband and I started beekeeping over eight years ago out of concern for bee health. Through our investigations and interest in the topic we have become aware of many assaults to pollinator health – from lack of forage and habitat, to pests and diseases. But it is increasingly clear that overuse of pesticides, and especially systemic pesticides are very toxic to pollinator species. Hundreds of peer-reviewed articles are coming to this conclusion. Not only is the use of neonicotinoid pesticides devastating to pollinator health, it has a reverberating effect up through the food chain and impacts fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, plant communities, and human beings.

 If City Council approves this important ordinance, it will have an immediate effect on pollinator health within city-managed property. It will also set an important example to retailers within the City, and become a model that other city governments can look to for guidance. The value of aesthetic perfection in our parks and gardens should not come at the expense of the health of our most sensitive and critical species.

 This ordinance is well written and addresses many of the critical concerns surrounding neonic and neonic-like pesticides and bee health through eliminating seed coatings, sprays, and treated nursery plants – and not reverting to other toxic sprays but adopting an organic Integrated Pest Management system. I hope to see my hometown of Portland showing comprehensive leadership in a movement toward less toxic public spaces. The health, vitality, and prosperity of our region is interconnected with the health of pollinator species, and advocating for their protection is preservation is something I am so proud of the City of Portland government for considering. I urge you to take a stand against these pesticides, and to educate retailers and residents the science-based reasons for doing so.


 Madelyn Morris, M.S., B.S.

Owner, Mickelberry Gardens


 UPDATE: As of April 1st, 2015, Portland City Council approved the ordinance to ban neonicotinoid pesticides on city-owned property! This is a big WIN for bees!

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