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Earl Blumenauer introduces Saving America’s Pollinators Act at Sabin Elementary School in Portland.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Rep. Earl Blumenauer speaks at Sabin School about his new legislation protecting bees on Thursday, Feb. 21 in Portland. Rep. Earl Blumenauer is back at bat for the bees.

The congressman's latest legislative push calls for the suspension of the use of nicotine-based poisons — known as neonicotinoids — that can be deadly for pollinators such as bumblebees, butterflies and lots of other bugs.

At stake, Blumenauer says, is the $190 billion in global benefits pollinators provide to the agricultural industry. About one-third of the nation's honeybee colonies collapsed between 2016 and 2018, with causes including the conversion of wildlands to monoculture fields and the neurotoxins that farmers routinely apply to food as it grows.

"Some in the agricultural sector are unwilling to give up what they find to be a very effective insecticide," Blumenauer said, "but the impacts appear to be devastating."

The Saving America's Pollinators Act has been introduced on Capitol Hill before, but the Oregon Democrat says the bill's chances are better now that the chair of the House Rules Committee, Massachusetts Democrat Rep. James McGovern, has signed on as co-sponsor.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - A child plays near the Sabin Garden in Portland. Blumenauer claims the changes are moderate, noting that the European Union has already banned outdoor use of neonicotinoids, while locally both Portland and Eugene have restricted their use.

If passed into law, the use of a variety of pesticides would be suspended until a newly-formed Pollinator Protection Board consisting of beekeepers, farmers and conservationists evaluated the toxicity of the chemicals. The legislation would require monitoring of bee health by experts.

Blumenauer says the new level of regulation is necessary, considering that one out of every three forkfuls of food produced in America rely on pollinators, including trendy favorites like almonds and avocados.

"Things that we care about like apples and chocolate and tequila depend on pollination," the representative added. "This is going to pinch a little bit, but we think it's worth it."

Blumenauer made his pitch for the bees during a Thursday, Feb. 21 news conference at Sabin Elementary School, 4013 N.E. 18th Ave., where students have access to an edible garden, outdoor classroom space and Portland Public School's first-ever nature playground.

The schoolyard is also home to Andrena bees, often called miner or digger bees because they nest in the ground. But the students at Sabin call them 'tickle bees.'

"Instead of stinging you, they tickle you," explained Makenna, a fourth-grader at Sabin.

Led by the school's garden educator, Ellen Berglund, students have been identifying parts of the garden during scavenger hunts and learn about recycling and life cycles in nature as well. "The students are able to see everything," Berglund said. "They're learning in action.

Oregon recorded one of the world's largest mass die-offs of bees in 2013, when some 50,000 dropped dead in the parking lot of a Target store in Wilsonville. An investigation by the Oregon Department of Agriculture determined that dozens of linden trees had been improperly sprayed by a contractor.

The murder weapon? Neonicotinoids. TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Earl Blumenauer tours Sabin Elementary School's nature playground with four-grade guides Makenna, far left, and educator Ellen Berglund, center right.

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