Rhode Island Would Restrict the Use of Pesticides Linked to Pollinator Deaths


PROVIDENCE — Local pollinators may receive a big boost this spring, thanks to newly introduced legislation in the General Assembly that seeks to restrict insecticides. The bill would restrict the use of neonicotinoids, also known as neonics, by requiring licensure from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

“My concern is pollinators fall ill, and then the birds that eat those pollinators fall ill and die,” said Rep. Rebecca Kislak D-Providence, who sponsored H7129.

Neonics refer to a large group of prolific water-soluble insecticides. The chemicals are commonly found in many products nationwide, specifically used in Rhode Island to treat apple trees, potatoes, and pumpkins. Turf farmers and tree specialists use them to control pests.

Chemically similar to nicotine, neonics impact the central nervous system by binding to specific receptors, causing paralysis and death in birds and insects. And the poison can stick around — reports show that most neonics have a half-life of three years. A 2013 study on the chemicals by the American Bird Conservancy found that a single kernel of seed coated with a neonicotinoid is enough to kill a songbird.

Opponents of neonics claim the pesticide isn’t needed to protect lands or habitats. According to a 2019 study by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, about 10 percent of the state’s total land area, or 99,885 acres, restricts the use of pesticides.

Efforts to restrict the use of neonics statewide have been a recurring issue at the Statehouse for years. Sen. Josh Miller, D-Cranston, introduced the first bill regulating them in 2016, but the bill has received annual pushback from certain scientists and farming groups. Miller is expected to introduce the Senate version of the bill again this session.

The original legislation inspired a Pollinator Working Group, composed of stakeholders from environmental groups, beekeepers, the University of Rhode Island, plant nurseries and others. The group in 2018 recommended that funds collected from pesticide registration go toward DEM compliance and enforcement of pesticide use.

The prohibition was introduced in ensuing years. Last year a prohibition bill sponsored by Kislak passed the House but failed to obtain a hearing in the Senate. Kislak has said she is optimistic about the current bill to restrict neonics, and said she believes it reflects all the views of stakeholders.

“We know that this is the bill that can pass,” she said.

The bill has support of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and the Environmental Council of Rhode Island. It has not been scheduled for a hearing by the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee.