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Local girl inspires passage of ‘Bee Bill’ in Illinois

This week is National Pollinator Week and State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-18th) joined State Sen. Laura Fine (D-9th); Mark Clifton, the executive director of the North Shore Mosquito Abatement District; Volunteers from the Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary, and the 12-year-old star of the afternoon event: Scarlett Harper, a rising eighth-grader at the Carleton Washburne School in Winnetka.

State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-18th) reads a letter from Gov. JB Pritzker to Scarlett Harper of Winnetka regarding the passage of the “Bee Bill” that Scarlett was instrumental in creating. Credit: Photo by Wendi Kromash

The group gathered in Evanston recently to celebrate the passage of Illinois House Bill 3118, affectionately known as “The Bee Bill,” which amends the Environmental Protection Act. It restricts the use of “pyrethroid” pesticides and says that they can only be applied “if an evidence-based model of application complying with specified requirements is used.”

The law also requires that the EPA make rules for licensing commercial applicators of such pesticides in residential areas. It also says the EPA can make any necessary rules to implement the new law.

Gabel and Fine sponsored the legislation and shepherded it through the two-year-long legislative process, but the inspiration came from Scarlett.

A couple of years ago, she said, she noticed that her family’s garden was no longer buzzing with bees. A nature lover and burgeoning environmentalist, she said she previously had been able to count “at least seven different species of bees,” but recently she hadn’t been able to count even seven bees in total.

Scarlett said she did some research and found a link between pesticides and bee population decline. Groups as diverse as the US Department of Agriculture, the National Wildlife Federation and the Journal of Economic Entomology all say that some pyrethroid pesticides are toxic to honeybees.

Scarlett said there is a ripple effect from each action, even if the effect is unintended.
“Bees pollinate crops, which also feed livestock,” Scarlett said. “One-third of our food supply is dependent on them.”

She also said that due to the treatments’ overuse, “mosquitoes are becoming resistant to the pesticides.”

She said the impact is far-reaching.

“It’s about public health, our food supply [and] the stability of our ecosystems,” she said.

Scarlett’s research about bees’ impact on the food supply is also backed up by independent research.

The Center for Food Safety says that, “in North America, honeybees alone pollinate nearly 95 kinds of fruits.”

Once she learned the information, Scarlett said she decided to do something about it. She wrote to Gabel, which led to a meeting at which they discussed her idea – to ban the use of the pesticides that were killing mosquitoes but also killing bees.

From left to right: State Sen. Laura Fine, Winnetka resident Scarlett Harper, Joan Linsenmeier, Mark Clifton and State Rep. Robyn Gabel pose in front of the Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary. Scarlett drew state representatives’ attention to the overuse of a type of pesticide that is harmful to pollinators including bees. Credit: Photo by Wendi Kromash

Fork was enthusiastic and contacted Fine, who was on board. Fine brought it to the General Assembly and some of her colleagues from southern Illinois—an area heavy with farmland—contacted her with their concerns about how the regulation might affect Illinois farmers. They worked on the language in the bill to address the farmers’ concerns, and the bill ultimately passed with bipartisan support, 111 to 1 in the Illinois House and 50 to 0 in the Illinois Senate.

gov. JB Pritzker signed the bill on May 27 and it will go into effect on Jan 1.

Gabel presented Scarlett with a copy of the bill signed by Pritzker and read the letter from him congratulating Scarlett on making such an impact at such a young age. Scarlett’s parents and grandparents beamed proudly as Gabel spoke.

“She’s been very easy to parent,” her father said. “This is all here. We don’t push her, we just sort of get out of the way.”

Following the presentation and a few photographs, the group walked over to the entrance of the Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary, a migratory bird stop. This area was landscaped specifically in 2015 to attract birds, pollinators, decomposers and other types of natural fauna. At last count, the Evanston North Shore Bird Club has recorded sightings for 194 different species of birds.

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