About Pesticides

What is a pesticide? A pesticide is a substance used to control unwanted plants, insect pests, rodents, or plant diseases. Pesticides include herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides, and fungicides.Of the pesticides, we believe insecticides cause the greatest challenge to pollinators. Using proper application practices when applying any pesticide is very important in keeping pollinators (and people) safe. Over a 30-year history of SETAC workshops, many groups of renowned scientists have produced summaries that are valued by environmental scientists, engineers, regulators, and managers for their technical quality and comprehensive, state-of-the-science reviews.

General Resources:

For Home

Excerpts below taken from the Solving Your Pest Problems Without Harming Pollinators brochure.

To download the full brochure, Solving Your Pest Problems Without Harming Pollinators, click here.
To purchase the printed versions, visit pollinator.org/brochures.

Pollinator-Friendly Pest Control Strategies for Your Home

Use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) around the home.

  • Where possible, avoid pest problems in the first place by burying infested plant residues, removing pest habitat, and planting disease and pest-resistant plant varieties.
  • Carefully diagnose your pest problem, and, before you apply a pesticide, make sure the pest population has reached a level where control is necessary.
  • Carefully evaluate your pest control options, and use a combination of pest control techniques if appropriate – these may include beneficial insects, manual removal, traps, a pesticide, etc.
  • Plant native flowering plant species to support pollinators, choosing species that are naturally resistant to insect pests.
  • Many native pollinators such as bumble bees live in natural areas and also play an essential role in pollination. Be especially careful when trying to control pests in or near these areas. All butterflies start life as caterpillars, feeding on plants. Learn what type of insect is eating your plants before you inadvertently kill butterflies and other beautiful and beneficial insects.

If you choose to use a pesticide:

  • Read and follow ALL label directions carefully – use the proper rate (not more or less) at the right time for the correct target pests, and avoid re-applying unnecessarily.
  • Pay close attention to the Environmental Hazards statement and all pollinator information on the label to determine if special precautions must be taken to protect pollinators.
  • The label will tell you if the pesticide should not be used on prebloom or blooming plants, and if the pesticide should only be used when bees and other pollinators are not actively foraging (for example, just before dark). Remember that “prebloom or blooming plants” includes ALL plants - garden crops, ornamentals, weeds, native species, etc. Some labels will indicate if application must be delayed until the blooms and pollinators are gone. If in doubt, do not spray.
  • Dispose of unused pesticides properly. (see earth911.com for disposal sites).
  • If you handle your pest issues by using pest control professionals, discuss solving your pest problems without harming pollinators.
  • If you have questions contact your local extension office (http://www.csrees. usda.gov/Extension/), conservation district (http://www.nacdnet.org/about/ districts/directory/) or visit pollinator.org/landscape-pests where you can get help.

For Monarchs

Excerpts below taken from the Protecting Monarchs brochure.

To download the full brochure, Protecting Monarchs, click here.
To purchase the printed versions, visit pollinator.org/brochures

Monarchs at Risk?

Each fall millions of monarch butterflies migrate to overwintering sites in Mexico and to a scattering of locations along the coast of California. In the spring monarchs return to breeding areas and the cycle starts again: a two-way migration that is one of the most spectacular on the planet. Yet, this migration appears to be declining. Researchers are working to determine the causes of this decline; some theories include:

  • Loss of milkweed needed for monarch caterpillars to grow and develop, due to habitat conversion and adverse land management
  • Drought conditions in California and other areas in the western U.S., resulting in lower milkweed biomass, and reduced availability of milkweed late in the summer
  • Insecticide and herbicide use to control insects and weeds, with unintended consequences for monarchs
  • Overwintering habitat loss and degradation in California, due to development within and adjacent to overwintering groves, and decay of overwintering trees as they age
  • Habitat loss in overwintering sites in Mexico, due to illegal logging

What You Can Do:

  • Help protect monarchs and their migration
  • Plant milkweed! Monarch caterpillars need milkweeds to grow and develop. There are over 100 milkweed species that are native to North America, many of which are used by monarchs. To learn which species to plant in your region, and how to plant them, visit the Bring Back the Monarchs Campaign at: www.monarchwatch.org/.
  • Plant butterfly nectar plants! Monarchs need nectar to provide energy as they breed, for their migratory journey, and to build reserves for the long winter. Include butterfly plants in your garden, and avoid using pesticides.
  • Encourage public land managers to create monarch habitat! Roadsides and parks of all sizes offer great opportunities to create habitat for monarchs and other pollinators.
  • Join citizen-science efforts to track monarch populations! The data collected by hundreds of citizen scientists across the country are used by monarch scientists to decipher monarch population trends, and to learn more about what might be driving their numbers from year to year.
  • Support monarch conservation efforts. There are a number of monarch conservation efforts underway doing very good work. Please consider donating to support these monarch

For Farms

Excerpts taken from the Pesticide Applicators brochure.

To download the full brochure, Pesticide Applicators, click here.
To purchase the printed versions, visit pollinator.org/brochures

Pollinator Poisoning

Most pollinator poisoning occurs when pollinator toxic pesticides are applied to crops during the blooming period. Poisoning of pollinators can also result from:

  • Drift of pesticides onto adjoining crops or plants that are in bloom.
  • Contamination of flowering ground cover plants when sprayed with pesticides.
  • Pesticide residues being picked up by foraging pollinators and taken back to the nest/colony.
  • Pollinators drinking or touching contaminated water sources or dew on recently treated plants.

Remember, YOU, the Pesticide Applicator, are critical to reducing pesticide risk for pollinators.

Use pesticides only when needed.
Check for “Bee Hazard” warnings and pollinator precautions in the Environmental Hazards statement and in the directions for use on the label. Consider the toxicity to pollinators when selecting a pesticide and formulation and when combining products.
Guard against drift of pesticides from ground or aerial applications.
Bloom is a key factor in pollinator exposure to pesticides. When crops or ground cover plants are in bloom:

  • Apply non-ERT (“actively visiting”) pollinator-toxic pesticides in late evening to minimize exposure to pollinators.
  • Do not apply ERT (“visiting”) pollinatortoxic pesticides.
  • Avoid applying when lower temperatures will allow dew formation. Dew may re-wet pesticides and increase bee exposure.
  • Avoid spraying areas where native pollinators live such as hedge rows and natural areas.
  • Establish good relations and communication with commercial and local beekeepers.

P2's Position

Pollinator Partnership (P2) believes that the unwarranted use of all chemical pesticides (including insecticides like neonicotinoids, pyrethroids, carbamates, and organophosphates) must be eliminated. Download the PDF.

P2’s goal is to reduce the impact of pesticides on pollinators. Too many people use pesticides as a first line of defense or as an insurance policy, but if one is insuring for a problem that doesn’t exist or is not justified by a demonstrated need, the use of pesticides becomes an insurance policy that asks pollinators to pay the premium. Pesticides must be used to treat pests only when there is proven economic impact, and even then, the choice of a specific pesticide, application method, time-of-day, climatic conditions, and bloom season should be considered so that pollinators are protected from harm to the greatest extent possible.

A 2016 University of Maryland study by vanEngelsdorp, et al. found 93 chemical compounds in the bee hives they studied and as many as 20 compounds in a single hive. Clearly, there are many chemicals impacting honey bees and other pollinators. Promoting chemical-by-chemical bans may reduce this threat, but it won’t prevent users from switching to other chemicals that could be more harmful nor address all the new chemicals that are in the pipeline. Similarly, generalizations are not helpful in solving real problems that are both complicated and context-specific. Bans that ignore subtle but significant issues not only alienate the very constituents who must be engaged to protect pollinators, namely farmers, but may also drive them to use other problematic practices and products that can harm pollinators.

P2 advocates Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which shifts away from automatically turning to chemicals for prevention and solutions. IPM encourages a wide variety of practices that systematically address pest management; and most importantly, aims to prevent pest problems from occurring in the first place. IPM provides a powerful set of tools to change behaviors in order to reduce risk and exposure and to support healthy pollinators, healthy farms, and healthy gardens. P2 also advocates for easily understandable labels that give clear directions on pesticide uses and the best means of ensuring pollinator health.

P2 is eager to see data on the effects of the European moratorium on neonicotinoid insecticides on crops that attract bees. The growing evidence of harm to non-target organisms from certain neonicotinoids points to a significant need to reduce their prophylactic use, especially where there is no history of infestation or demonstrated economic threshold that has been met in any given crop or location. Each neonicotinoid that is used on crops (acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, dinotefuran, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam) has different uses, effects on pollinators, and inherent properties, including persistence rates in soil and water, which are affected by factors such as exposure to UV light, temperature, and soil type. Insecticides, like the six neonicotinoids listed above and other systemic compounds like sulfoxaflor and flupyradifurone, or pyrethroids, carbamates, and organophosphates, are intended to kill insects. In addition to insecticides, fungicides and herbicides alone or in combination can also be problematic to pollinators. Recent research shows that adjuvants and surfactants that are used in combination with the active ingredients (AI) can also be harmful to pollinators. Further, the overuse of chemicals sets the stage for the development of resistance, necessitating the need for new chemicals which perpetuates the cycle of overuse.

P2 is working to encourage the increased use of IPM and related approaches to managing pest problems that ensure pollinator health is considered at every decision point. P2’s operating model is based on a collaborative approach, and it will continue to help move partners and other interested stakeholders forward to optimal pollinator health in every landscape.