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Published March 12, 2021

Neonics: It is Time to Act

Neonicotinoids (neonics) are the nation's most widely used class of insecticides. They come in many forms, such as seed treatments and sprays. Plants take up this pesticide in a systematic manner, meaning it is incorporated into every tissue of the plant. Neonics have been shown to negatively impact birds, mammals, humans and have been linked to pollinator decline worldwide.

Audubon Board Member Dr. Charles Clarkson led the development of the state’s Breeding Bird Atlas and has spoken about declining bird numbers in Rhode Island, matching trends seen worldwide. Study after study is showing a link between pesticide use, particularly neonicotinoids, and impacts on birds. According to research conducted by the American Bird Conservancy, as little as one seed is enough to kill a songbird.

Insects in Decline

Neonicotinoid pesticides are extensively studied and known to negatively impact bees and other beneficial insects by affecting their central nervous system. In December 2019, the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture received a literature review from Industrial Economics, Inc. examining the effects of neonicotinoids on pollinators. A total of 70 documents were included in the review, 66 were journal articles, four were EPA risk assessment documents. The literature review concluded, “many studies and reviews have documented that neonicotinoid exposure can have deleterious effects on a wide range of endpoints relevant to pollinators and pollinator services.”

The RI Wildlife Action Plan lists the rusty patched bumble bee, the yellow-banded bumblebee, the monarch butterfly and 10 species of silkworm and sphinx months as pollinator species of greatest conservation need. Pesticides used for the control of mosquitoes and other widespread problem insects, as well as homeowner use of over-the-counter pesticides, contribute to the decline. Loss of habitat and climate change also impact their populations.

Audubon has worked for several years on issues related to pollinator health and habitat. This work has consistently identified Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management's (RIDEM) limited capacity to manage and monitor pesticide use in the state as problematic.

Are Neonics Neccessary?

Lands throughout Rhode Island are successfully managed without the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Audubon manages 9,500 acres of protected land for pollinators, birds and other wildlife. We do not use neonicotinoid pesticides, we do not engage in aerial spraying of any pesticides and only use pesticides for spot treatment of invasive species and for treatment of problems like carpenter ant infestations in the structures on our protected properties.

In 2019, a Brown student intern working for Audubon researched areas of the state-managed similarly to Audubon. We identified about 99,885 acres managed with limited pesticide application including land managed by The Nature Conservancy and DEM’s Forestry Division. The state of Rhode Island covers a total of about 775,900 acres. Thus, the pesticide-light/pollinator-safe lands ascertained by this study represent almost 1/8 or about 13% of the land cover of the state.

Other states and countries are also taking action. The European Union has banned the outdoor use of three neonicotinoids—clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam—to all field crops, because of growing evidence that the pesticides can harm domesticated honey bees and also wild pollinators. Big retailers are phasing out neonicotinoids. Walmart and True Value are phasing out neonics. Home Depot pledged in 2016 to phase out neonic treated plants.

It Is Time to Act

Local cities and towns concerned about neonicotinoids cannot take action; Rhode Island law gives RIDEM sole authority to regulate pesticides: RIGL 23-25-35, “Jurisdiction in all matters pertaining to the registration, sale, distribution, transportation, storage, use and application, disposal of pesticides and devices, and licensing and certification of applicators is, by this chapter, vested exclusively in the director, and all acts and parts of acts inconsistent with this chapter are expressly repealed.” Audubon calls on the State of Rhode Island to show leadership.

Audubon thanks Representatives Kislak, Bennett, Kazarian, Speakman, Cortvriend, Carson, and Donovan for sponsoring H 5641, which, if passed, would ban neonicotinoids (including Imidacloprid, Acetamiprid, Clothianidin, Nitenpyram, Nithiazine, Thiacloprid, Thiamethoxam and Dinotefuran) in all forms including treated seeds. We are looking forward to seeing a companion bill introduced in the Senate in 2021!

You can stay updated by tracking this bill using the Secretary of State's Bill Tracker tool and by signing up to receive Audubon Action Alerts and Advocacy Updates!

Latest News and Events

Joining with concerned environmental and scientific organizations across the country, the Audubon Society of Rhode Island recommends the cessation of bird feeding at this time. If homeowners are unable or unwilling to stop feeding birds, efforts should be made to clean feeders regularly to reduce transmission risk. Should you encounter any wild birds that appear sick, please discontinue feeding immediately. Dead and dying wild birds should be reported to the RI Department of Environmental Management, Division of Fish and Wildlife of by calling 401-789-0281. Click to read more.

The job of being a bird is arguably harder now than at any point in their long evolution and each and every one of us has the power to make a difference in the lives of birds - every day.

The case against harmful neonicotinoid insecticides grows as pollinator populations decline. Environmental groups, legislators, and supporters gathered on May 11, 2022, at the Roger Williams Botanical Center in Providence for a legislative breakfast and speaking event to rally support for legislation that would restrict the use of harmful neonicotinoid insecticides (neonics) in Rhode Island.

  • May 2019 - 2020

  • May 2019 - 2020