Environment Maine and the citizen advocacy group Protect South Portland recently joined forces and collected 920 signatures of from city residents in support of a measure that calls on the federal Environmental Protection Agency to enact a nationwide moratorium on a class of pesticides that has been connected to bee die-offs.

Locally, the City Council has spent several months debating a new pesticide ban designed to better protect the environment and people’s health. Protect South Portland supports that ban, which was discussed again in a council workshop on Monday.

During a one-month period, a 15-person outreach team sponsored by Environment Maine spread out across South Portland, visiting more than 1,700 homes and raising $12,000 from locals eager to support the cause.

Environment Maine and Protect South Portland then held a press conference on Aug. 3 to showcase their success.

At that time the outreach team leader, Annie Tucker, said, “No citizens were as environmentally knowledgeable as those I talked to (in South Portland). I found many had strong opinions on pesticides, mostly in support of limiting their use.”

She added, “We all know that pesticides are a threat to human health, but it was still galvanizing to talk to one couple (who) decided to keep bees years ago when colony collapse disorder was just becoming a nationwide crisis and who urged their neighbors to stop lawn pesticide-usage due to the deadly implications for bees.”

Mary-Jane Ferrier, the spokeswoman for Protect South Portland, also said a few words at the press conference, as did Mayor Tom Blake.

“Going door to door in South Portland with a message about protecting our environment is important. There are just so many people (here) eager to engage in that conversation and to support positive efforts like the one these Environment Maine canvassers brought to their doors,” Ferrier said.

And Blake said, “I am grateful for the work that Environment Maine has done,” while also highlighting the efforts the city of South Portland has taken to protect the environment, including hiring a full-time sustainability coordinator and creating a climate action plan.

Pollinating bees, crucial to the environment, “have been dying off every year at alarming rates. In fact, last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the highest loss of (bee) colonies on record,” Environment Maine said in a press release.

The press release said that, “Scientists point to several causes behind the problem, including global warming, habitat loss, parasites and bee-killing insecticides known as neonicotinoids or neonics, (which) are about 6,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT.”

In order to restore bee populations to good health, Environment Maine is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency “to take steps to declare a nationwide moratorium on these pesticides,” the press release added.

“Our message today is clear,” Laura Dorle, the campaigns director for Environment Maine, said last week, “we need local and national action to make an impact on this problem for the bees, for our food and for the health of our communities and our environment.”

– Kate Irish Collins

South Portland Mayor Tom Blake speaks at a press conference held last week by Environment Maine, which collected 920 signatures in the city in support of a nationwide moratorium on certain pesticides known to kill bees.