Chemicals aren’t the solution
As a concerned citizen and beekeeper in the valley, I would like to comment on the city of Aspen’s decision to use the chemical ethepon (Florel) to reduce crabapple fruit production in an effort to curb the attraction of bears to town.
Sally Spaulding, community relations director for the city of Aspen, recently stated that “Florel is, most importantly, not an insecticide” and breaks down to “a naturally occurring product.” This statement does not mean that the use of ethepon will have no adverse effects on our environment, or beneficial pollinators such as the honeybee.
Ethepon releases ethylene gas when it is sprayed onto the tree branches, which is a powerful plant growth regulator. To be effective at inhibiting fruit, the chemical must be applied to flowering fruit trees during mid- to full-bloom when temperatures are above 6 degrees F. The gas causes the flowers to drop off, and the tree is rendered neutered for the year. The entire tree must be sprayed annually at precisely the right flower stage to attain this effect. Applying this chemical on warm days during early spring to fruit trees in full bloom will expose countless honeybees and other pollinators to the chemical and will destroy a critical source of early season nectar for the local honeybee just emerging from a very tough winter.
Ethepon was introduced in 1973 by the AmChem/Union Carbide Co. for inducing flowers on pineapples in Hawaii. Ethepon has been shown to be neurotoxic and cause birth defects in small mammals. It contains toxic chemical impurities such as 2-chlorethanol that, while not likely to harm humans at low outdoor concentrations, are likely to affect small insects and animals. Data on the accumulation of ethepon and its degradation products in our soil, water, plants, crops, children and pets is insufficient to assure safety. EPA approval is frequently based on inadequate, manufacturer-sponsored studies incapable of detecting the far-reaching effects on our environment. We should resort to using them with the greatest of caution – despite reassuring labeling by manufacturers such as Union Carbide and Montsano.
Honeybees play a crucial role in the life cycle of all flowering plants, and are responsible for pollinating upwards of one-third of all fruits and vegetables consumed by humans. Honeybees persevere in our rugged environment despite extremely inhospitable conditions, but cannot tolerate many of the chemical insults to which we expose them. Honeybees visit not only flowering plants for nectar and pollen, but also many other trees and shrubs for collection of propolis. Awareness of the effects of these chemicals on our environment and the local honeybee population is generally absent among professional sprayers and homeowners alike.
Please encourage your local representatives to adopt more progressive-minded methods of managing unwanted plants, insects and wildlife. In this case, the main attractant for bears coming to our towns is clearly garbage. The answer is not chemically neutering our fruit trees, but creating and enforcing strict bear-safe garbage ordinances.
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