State Legislators Focus on Weeds and Bees

Mar 16, 2015

Washington State lawmakers want to know if they can create a win-win deal in the battle against noxious weeds - that is to give honeybees - and the crops that depend on them - a helping hand while whacking aggressive weeds.

A honeybee feeding on purple aster flowers.
Credit USGS: Elizabeth A. Sellers / USGS

Washington bee keepers, faced with sudden and puzzling losses of entire colonies of the little pollinators, have asked state officials to to modify their unrestricted warfare against noxious weeds. That's because some varieties of voracious weeds are also pollen and nectar-rich, prime foraging plants for bees.

State agencies have been successful in  controlling weeds on public lands, but the effort has left huge tracts of public land devoid of food sources for bees. Yellow star thistle is one example of an invasive plant marked for eradication by the state. It out-competes native grasses and wildflowers, and its spiny flowerhead can injure livestock.

But bees love the flowers from which they make great honey.

The central idea of a bill which has passed the House and now awaits hearings in the Senate is to replace noxious weeds on state land with non-invasive, pollinator friendly native plants that bloom from spring to fall. The measure asks the Weed Board to evaluate the advantages of replacing pollen-rich noxious weeds with native forage plants that can still support honeybee colonies.

If the bill survives scrutiny in the Senate, lawmakers expect a report on the pilot project by next fall.