Colorado's bees had some major backing Friday morning at the state Capitol, as the lieutenant governor and first gentleman joined the fight to keep certain pesticides out of the hands of consumers.
Three states — Connecticut, Vermont and Maryland — already have restricted the availability of neonicotinoids, or neonics. With safer alternatives on the market and no known opposition, the proposal has bipartisan legislative support and a supportive governor's office, making a restriction appear certain in Colorado.
A bill titled "Protect Pollinators, Regulate Neonicotinoids” is expected to be introduced in the next two weeks to reduce the use of toxic pesticides, better known as “neonics,” at the consumer level.
Colorado's agriculture industry depends on pollinators, which is why the state has stepped up efforts to protect bees and butterflies that do the bulk of the work to grow food and feed in the state.
"Bees have been dying off at an alarming rate," Hannah Collazo, the state director Environment Colorado, said at the Capitol Friday. "This is especially concerning because we rely on bees for the majority of our food supply, Palisade peaches (and) the alfalfa we feed our dairy cows."
Moreover, neonics build up in the soil and water and pose threats to birds, aquatic species and humans, legislators and activists said. The pesticide causes "shaking or twitching and paralysis," according to researchers.
Environment Colorado presented 22,398 petitions from Colorado residents supporting the restriction, including 32 small farmers, 60 businesses and 39 beekeepers or entomologists.
Colorado municipalities have looked at the issue, but state law currently prevents them from regulating pesticide use, though the city of Boulder has restricted their uses on public and city-owned property. Sen. Steve Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder, is working on legislation later this session to change that.
In 2018, so did the European Union. Sugar beet growers in other locations have opposed bans, but the state law would allow commercial operations that have pesticide applicator's license to continue to use them, though activists and others continue to pressure the use of alternatives.
Sugar beets were once a major cash crop in Colorado, but markets and water costs caused an ebb in the state that began decades ago. Sugar beets are discussed occasionally in Colorado as a "comeback" crop, not a staple.
"At the very least, Coloradans don't need to be using them on their lawns and gardens," Collazo said, calling restrictions a commonsense first step to addressing the declines in pollinator populations, which lawmakers have worked on the past few years.
The Colorado Farm Bureau hasn't taken a position on the proposed bill, waiting to see the actual language of it, but it hasn't blocked previous attempts to protect pollinators, which are vital to parts of the farm and ranching industry.
First gentleman Marlon Reis, an animal welfare advocate, said the first family has a beekeeper for a hive at the governor's mansion and referred to "our small but mighty friends, the pollinators." He said one out of three bites of food we eat depends on pollinators.
"This is an issue that goes beyond animal welfare," he said. "Pollinators are an incredible important part of our ecosystem, our agricultural sector and our way of life."
Sen. Kevin Priola, a Republican from Henderson who has a farming background, is backing the bill. He brings the perspective of having held a pesticide applicator's license.
"I saw a draft of the bill and said, 'Yeah, that makes of sense," he said, going on to say he hopes the legislation encourages consumers to be more aware and educate themselves about the unintended harm of the pesticides they use.
"For bees, neonics should be used as a last resort to be applied by people who are fully educated on the application, so they don't build up" in the water and soil, Priola said.
Rep. Cathy Kipp, a Democrat from Fort Collins, said Colorado is home to 946 native species of bees, but more than half are in decline, and neonics are a significant toxic threat to bees, confusing their sense of direction, making it hard for them to find food or return to their hive.
"Safer alternatives exist, and we should all use them," she said.