OLYMPIA — Beekeepers lobbying for a bee-foraging bill haven’t been able to overcome concerns that replacing noxious weeds with pollen-rich plants could create new and unforeseen problems.
“We didn’t make our case very well to all the groups that could have been affected,” said Tim Hiatt, legislative chairman of the Washington State Beekeepers Association. “As an industry, we’re pretty inexperienced politically.”
Hiatt, a commercial beekeeper in Ephrata, said he’s given up hope that lawmakers will approve a pilot project by the State Noxious Weed Control Board to plant bee-nourishing forage after eradicating noxious weeds. Twenty-seven plants listed by the state as noxious weeds are valuable bee forage, and when they’re removed, sometimes nothing remains for bees, according to a legislative report.
House Bill 1654 also would have directed state agencies to plant when possible bee forage after removing noxious weeds on their lands.
The measure passed the House, 67-31, but has stalled in the Senate. The weed control board supported the legislation, which was estimated to cost a relatively small amount of money, $72,000. The board’s executive secretary, Alison Halpern, said the pilot project would complement the board’s ongoing distribution of seeds of non-invasive flowers to benefit bees and butterflies.
But at hearings, beekeepers struggled at times to answer questions from lawmakers representing agricultural districts about which plants they wanted to introduce to landscapes.
The bill didn’t specify the location or size of test plots, or the plants that would go into the ground. The measure only suggested it be tried in Eastern and Western Washington and that plants such as knapweed and non-native thistles be replaced by forage with as much pollen and nectar.
“We would have only used native species,” Halpern said. “I felt confident it would be low risk as far as unintended consequences.”
Test sites had not been picked out, but the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service were both interested in participating, she said.
Hiatt said that he had hoped the weed board’s oversight would have soothed skeptics.
“They (the board) would have been in charge to make sure nothing bad was introduced,” he said.
The bill was a response to a recommendation by a honeybee study group appointed by the Legislature.
In a report released just before the session began, the group cited disappearing forage as a main reason for high bee mortality rates. The report concluded that lack of forage was a bigger problem than pesticides.
Hiatt said the opposition to the bee-forage bill didn’t surprise him. He said he realizes a lot of money is invested in controlling weeds and that the stakes are high.
Before the 2016 session, beekeepers will try to meet with other agricultural groups to talk about how noxious weeds can be eliminated and bee forage increased, he said.