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ODA officials investigating grim discovery of dead bees

The picture of the dead bees Wallis Anawalt posted on social media is seen. The Ashland resident said she found more than two dozen dead bees in the same area over the course of a few days. (Courtesy: Wallis Anawalt)

A social media post depicting an image of dead bees posted by an Ashland resident raised concern about the preservation of bees in the community.

Wallis Anawalt took to a community Facebook page and posted several images after she said she found over two dozen dead bees of various species on an overpass near Clay Street Park.

“I was so surprised and angry, it just really impacted me,” Anawalt said. “I was just going to move them to a shady spot and I just happened to have my cell phone with me, took a picture, posted it, and thought well maybe it will raise a little bit of awareness.”

In the post, Anawalt said some of the bees were still alive and wiggling but they ultimately died. After she posted the pictures, local bee experts and pollinator advocates expressed their concerns over her discovery.

“When I saw the post, it seemed very unusual, I was alarmed that there could be some kind of incident happening, some event happening that could be causing this large amount of dead bees,” Kristina Lefever, the president of the Pollinator Project Rogue Valley said.

Sharon Schmidt, the president of Cascade Girl, a local nonprofit organization that educates and raises awareness for bees and other pollinators, also weighed in on the post.

“It's kind of a big mystery, there’s nothing that would immediately inform us that it is a pesticide,” Schmidt said.

After connecting with the two experts, Anawalt learned a majority of the dead bees she found were queen bees.

"Their babies are not going to come to life because those queens cant go back to their hives, to their colony to bring the pollen and the nectar so we have lost generations of bumblebees in a handful of 20 bees, that's alarming," Lefever said.

Both Schmidt and Lefever shared they know of an incident in 2017 where thousands of bumblebees were killed after pesticides were sprayed on a tree. Although the cause of death of the bees found in Ashland is unknown, both experts said the culprit could possibly be the same.

“This seems very random in a very large area on a windy hillside, it’s a lot of bees in one short period of time 3 or 4 days in one general area,” Lefever noted. “Ashland is a Bee City USA, we don’t know who did this, I doubt it was intentional, but it is a cause of using pesticides of some sort.”

Schmidt said if other residents in Ashland find a group of dying bees, she encourages them to contact the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) right away. After the post, Schmidt contacted the agency who is now investigating the matter.

Andony Melathopoulos, the state’s pollinator health extension specialist explained the department's investigation process.

“They are going to come with a trained pesticides investigator, remember it needs to be a minimum number of bees, they’ll do things like collect physical evidence, they may collect some bees, vegetation which they may use for pesticide analysis,” Melathopoulos said. "They’re going to figure out who’s applied pesticides in the areas look at those application records and try to piece together if it possible this is the cause."

He noted ODA may conduct interviews, including the individual who reported the issue and local pesticide applicators.

Melathopoulos said if residents are unsure of what to do, they can call 211 and be connected to the Pesticide Analytical and Response Center.

In an email response, ODA said, “We ask if the public encounters a possible pesticide incident that has impacted people, animals, bees, or the environment, we ask they call 503-986-6470.”