$2 million sought for bee health in Oregon

A $2 million funding package pollinator research is being considered by Oregon lawmakers but a beekeeper group is concerned about how their assessment fees would be spent.
Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

Published on March 20, 2015 12:11PM

A bee pollinates blueberry flowers in this Capital Press file photo.

Mateusz Perkowski/Capital Press

A bee pollinates blueberry flowers in this Capital Press file photo.

SALEM — Oregon lawmakers are thinking of spending $2 million for pollinator research, but a beekeeper group is perturbed by some of the legislation.

The legislative package — House Bills 3360, 3361 and 3362 — would pay for a bee diagnostic facility at Oregon State University and pollinator health outreach efforts, with beekeepers contributing part of the money through an assessment of 50 cents per hive.

While the current bills don’t specify funding levels, speakers at a recent legislative hearing said they envision about $1 million for four full-time staff, $500,000 for equipment and $500,000 for outreach during the 2015-2017 biennium.

Beekeepers have been losing roughly 30 percent of their hives in recent years due to a combination of factors, including malnutrition, pests, diseases, pesticides and low genetic diversity, said Ramesh Sagili, a bee entomologist at OSU.

“There is not a single good explanation for this,” he said during a March 19 hearing before the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Last year, legislators directed a task force representing beekeepers, pesticide users and conservationists to examine possible solutions to the problem, which resulted in the funding recommendations.

The Oregon State Beekeepers Association is generally supportive of the legislative package but is troubled by provisions in HB 3362, which deals with registration and assessments for beekeepers.

Harry Vanderpool, the group’s vice president, said his group objected to the bill’s requirement that money collected from beekeepers be spent on “honeybee and native bee research.”

Beekeepers don’t rely on native bees, so there’s no more justification for using their assessment fees on native pollinator research than for spending the money on salmon or oak habitat, he said.

Funds from beekeepers ­ — expected to amount to about $35,000 — should be directed solely for honeybee research, he said.

Committee Chair Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, said the beekeeper group could ask for amendments to the bill but cautioned that a perceived lack of consensus could imperil the legislation.

Vanderpool said the current language is too divisive for the beekeeping community, which is why he broached the subject.

Other agricultural entities benefit more directly from native pollinators, he said. “Those revenue sources are there to be identified and discussed.”

Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove, said that paying for native bee science seems to be justified as there’s a public interest in helping those pollinators.

“The taxpayer would be paying the burden of this research facility,” he said.

Representatives from Oregonians for Food and Shelter, an agribusiness group, and the Oregon Seed Council also said they favor the funding package but had uncertainties about other provisions in HB 3362.

Rep. Jeff Reardon, D-Happy Valley, said he was recently made aware of concerns with that particular bill and would work with Vanderpool and others to resolve the questions.


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