OLYMPIA — Washington state will spend $399,000 on a new task force to study promoting the health of honeybees and other pollinators.
The task force, funded in the state's new two-year budget, will include public officials, beekeepers, farmers and conservationists. Commercial beekeeper Tim Hiatt of the Washington State Beekeepers Association said he hopes a panel stocked with different viewpoints will be an advantage.
"It could help build consensus on taking some actions some parties really don't like," he said. "It's a good idea, and I look forward to participating in it."
Lawmakers unanimously supported a bill introduced by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynwood, to create the task force. He said at a hearing that he learned about the plight of pollinators at a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators.
In 2013, legislators created a honeybee work group that included beekeepers and growers. The work group identified pesticides, development and weed control as "challenges."
The work group recommended more nectar- and pollen-rich forage for bees and tax relief for beekeepers. Beekeepers got tax relief, but the landscape hasn't changed much, said Hiatt, who was on the work group.
As with the last work group, the state Department of Agriculture will lead the new task force. Almost all of the money set aside for the task force will go to personnel, administrative and travel costs.
Early on, Hiatt, the beekeepers association's legislative director, opposed the bill because it directed the department to make a statewide map of hives. Hiatt said the map would expose beekeepers to theft, vandalism and "squatters," other apiarists horning in on the nectar.
The map was dropped, and the beekeepers association supported the bill.
The bill now directs the task force to recommend to the agriculture director a policy on releasing the contact information of beekeepers to landowners and pesticide applicators to keep bees from being sprayed.
Hiatt said the issue of how neonicotinoids affect bees probably would be too much for the task force to take on. He also said beekeepers can't be too pushy. "It's not going to be a successful line for beekeepers to try to tell landowners what they have to plant," he said.
The task force will include the state Conservation Commission, Department of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, Parks and Recreation Commission, Department of Transportation, state Noxious Weed Control Board and Washington State University.
The panel also will include representatives of beekeepers, pesticide distributors and applicators, conservation groups, a youth organization, tribes and the fruit, seed, berry and other farm industries that need pollinators.
From the task force, according to the bill, will come a "pollinator health strategy." The agriculture department will send the strategy to lawmakers by Dec. 31, 2020.
The bill will also require volunteers who take part in the state's adopt-a-highway program to plant pollen- or nectar-rich plants whenever possible.
Lawmakers also passed a bill to give beekeepers some protection from being held liable if their bees sting someone, as long as they were following ordinances and weren't careless. The bill was promoted as a way to help urban apiarists.