What’s being done to save the bees?

One in 7 Americans now lives in a state that restricts the use of bee-killing pesticides. How did that happen?

BeeBalm, USFWS Midwest Region via Flickr | Public Domain

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In May 2023, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill limiting the use of toxic bee-killing pesticides into law. 

This makes Colorado the ninth state to take such an action, and it couldn’t have come a moment too soon: A recent study found that the western bumblebee, just one of the more than 900 bee species native to Colorado, has declined by 72% in some parts of the state due in part to exposure to these pesticides.

It’s an important victory, but it’s just the latest in a long line of wins for the bees. Here’s a quick look at the progress to date:

Banning bee-killing pesticides, one state at a time

Neonicotinoids (or neonics for short) are a class of pesticides that have been linked to bee die-offs. They’re 1,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT, and even sublethal doses cause a lot of damage. These neurotoxic pesticides attack bees’ brains, making it harder for them to sleep, forage, fly and even find their way home.

Fortunately, states are recognizing the threat these dangerous pesticides pose to bees, and they’re taking action to limit their use and sale. These are the nine states that have already passed laws to that effect:

  1. Connecticut (2016)
  2. Maryland (2016)
  3. Vermont (2019)
  4. Maine (2021)
  5. Massachusetts (2021)
  6. New Jersey (2022)
  7. New York (2022, 2023)
  8. Rhode Island (2022)
  9. Colorado (2023)

Thanks to this progress, 1 in 7 Americans now lives in a state with some restriction on bee-killing pesticides. 

Next up: Environment California is working to build support for a bill currently under consideration in California that would address non-agricultural uses of neonics, such as on lawns, gardens and golf courses. If successful, it would boost that number to 1 in 4 Americans living in a state with a similar such law. And our national network is looking for more opportunities to advance legislation in more states.

Taking neonics off store shelves

When it comes to maintaining our lawns and gardens, there are plenty of safe products on the market. Too many garden centers, however, still sell pesticides that are harmful to bees.

Conservationists have already helped convince The Home Depot and Lowe’s to commit to phasing out the sale of bee-killing neonics for consumer use. 

Now, we’re calling on Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, to do the same. Our members and supporters have helped deliver tens of thousands of messages to Amazon, urging it to take bee-killing pesticides off its virtual shelves.

Winning federal progress for the bees

Major progress is also being made at the national level:

  • At the start of 2021, we celebrated when our efforts to protect bees on 11 million acres of Department of Defense-owned land came to fruition. The Defense Department is now required to abide by its own guidebook and manage military lands in a manner that protects pollinators.
  • The Inflation Reduction Act, passed in early 2023 and advocated for by our national network, included nearly $20 billion in additional funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) conservation programs. We’re urging the USDA to use this funding to help pollinators, such as through its program to reimburse farmers for replanting prairie that provides native bees with much-needed habitat.

Now, our network is laying the groundwork for even bigger wins, as we urge the Biden administration to reinstate a ban on the use of bee-killing pesticides in wildlife refuges (the places bees should be safest) and call on the Environmental Protection Agency to restrict three of the most common types of neonics as they undergo a periodic review.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go to save the bees. They face a triple threat of pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change. And the policies that have been passed so far have mainly addressed the consumer use of bee-killing pesticides, while still allowing for agricultural use.

Still, no one thought it was possible to ban DDT or any other pesticide until Rachel Carson wrote “Silent Spring” and sparked an environmental movement. Together, we can keep that movement burning bright as we work to win a ban on bee-killing neonicotinoids.


Wendy Wendlandt

President, Environment America; Senior Vice President, The Public Interest Network

​​As president of Environment America, Wendy is a leading voice for the environment in the United States. She has been quoted in major national, state and local news outlets for nearly 40 years on issues ranging from air pollution to green investing. She is also a senior vice president with The Public Interest Network. She is a founding board member of Green Corps, the field school for environmental organizers, and Green Century Funds, the nation’s first family of fossil fuel free mutual funds. Wendy started with WashPIRG, where she led campaigns to create Washington state’s model toxic waste cleanup program and to stop the nation’s first high-level nuclear waste dump site. She is a 1983 graduate of Whitman College. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and dog and hikes wherever and whenever she can.

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