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Rutgers students join state organization to save bees

<p>Bees are essential to human survival, but in recent years nearly half of all colonies have not survived through winter.</p>

Bees are essential to human survival, but in recent years nearly half of all colonies have not survived through winter.

The yellow-and-black insects that keep flowers blooming each year are dying — but a group is working to keep them alive.

The New Jersey Public Interest Group has started a campaign to save the bees across New Jersey. The Rutgers—New Brunswick chapter’s campaign is led by Ansley Kunnath, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student who holds positions as both a chapter board member and the campaign coordinator of NJPIRG.

The campaign focuses on saving pollinator bees, who are dying in record numbers each year, Kunnath said.

“Thirty to 40 percent of bees are dying across the country every year, which is a big issue,” she said.

The death of bees is a critically important subject that really needs to take the public interest spotlight because they pollinate a majority of our food supply, Kunnath said.

“About 70 percent of our food is pollinated by our pollinators … without bees, we won’t have food,” she said.

"Of 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of our global food supply, 71 are bee-pollinated," according to CNN. In the United States alone, these foods bring in a profit valued around $16 million each year.

NJPIRG is asking the EPA to cast an instant moratorium on a certain type harmful pesticide, called neonicotinoids, which have been linked to the decline of bees, she said.

In order to demonstrate the public's interest in the issue, NJPIRG has been working within the University and in surrounding areas to gain support, she said.

“We’re getting endorsements from restaurant owners, scientists, professors, beekeepers," she said. "We’re also getting petitions from students who care about the issue."

Although the ban would be temporary, she said, it would encourage further research into the connection of neonicotinoids to the bee decline, which will hopefully bring light to the situation and halt the bee epidemic.

“As of now, they’ve stopped accepting new applications for this pesticide, so it doesn’t seem that unrealistic to expect them to stop all of them,” she said.

Many restaurants, a few states and even entire countries have even banned these chemicals, but a U.S. federal moratorium is necessary to make truly instrumental change in this country, she said.

With the organization holding Save the Bees campaigns at both Rutgers—New Brunswick and Rutgers—Camden, as well as an online petition, they has been very successful over the course of this semester, she said.

“We’ve scheduled a meeting with the EPA in their Philadelphia office, so we’ll be going over there and giving them our 6,000 petitions and 65 endorsements and just talking to them about the issue,” she said.

There is still much more work to do, she said.

“We’re trying to get 20,000 petitions across New Jersey, which would be one for each bee colony in the state,” she said.

As far as how Rutgers students can get involved, just signing the petition or planting flowers that bees can pollinate will help the campaign greatly, Kunnath said.

“There are beekeepers on Cook campus. There’s actually a beekeeping course at Rutgers ... and then there are a lot of community gardens in New Brunswick and the nearby area, so it’s definitely an area that will be affected,” she said.

This is not just an issue being faced in New Jersey, she said. Multiple national environmental movements are working to ban neonicotinoids.

Consequences could be severe if these pesticides continue to be used.

“Our whole agricultural industry is supported by bees,” she said. “Just pollination — if we had to do it by our hand — it would cost billions of dollars."

Neonicotinoids are not the only factor at play, but their leading role in the decline of bees is undeniable, she said.

“There are definitely other reasons — like, the varroa mites, for example. They are also affecting the bees, but this is just an incremental change we can have towards, like, a bigger goal of finally helping bees,” Kunnath said.

To have NJPIRG reflecting the public interest in an environmental issue that is directly affecting society is really important, she said.

It is very probable for the moratorium to be passed, she said, due to the widespread pressure from countless companies, advocacy groups and policy makers.

“We think we’re on the brink of change right now,” she said. “It’s really cool to be part of something that’s a nationwide movement — a bunch of students working on national issues and actually making progress on them."

Eric Weck is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. See more on Twitter @ericcweck.

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