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State's bee protection bill scaled back

A bill that would restrict pesticides believed to be dangerous to bees has been gutted and replaced with a proposal to increase education and form a task force.

The change came after consultation with scientists, nursery and agriculture interests, and environmental groups, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jeff Reardon, D-Portland, told a House committee Tuesday. The Oregon Farm Bureau Federation and the Oregon Association of Nurseries had opposed the original draft.

Reardon proposed the bill in response to several well-publicized cases of mass bee die-offs in Oregon last summer.

In the largest case, more than 50,000 bees died after a licensed pesticide applicator sprayed linden trees that were in bloom, in violation of label directions.

All of the chemicals in question are neonicotinoids, a class of pesticide introduced in the mid-1990s.

The bill now would require Oregon State University, in connection with the state Department of Agriculture, to develop best practices for using the chemicals without harming bees.

It also would create a 10-member Task Force on Pollinator Health to examine pesticide regulation and outreach efforts in other states and countries, the effectiveness of current regulations, and best practices for avoiding harm to bees. The task force would be required to submit a report by Oct. 1, that could recommend legislation for the 2015 legislative session.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to take action on the bill at its Thursday meeting.