I'm not a pessimist, at least I try not to be one. But...
Early last summer, I noticed something that really bothered me. While driving between Riley and Sisters on a warm, early summer day, I noticed I didn't have as many smashed insects on the windshield of my 4Runner as I did earlier that spring. The weather and road conditions were right, but the insects just were not there...
- Caleb Anderson
The first time I made that trip was in September 1951, astraddle my 1947 Harley-Davidson. I mounted a sport shield on the forks of the Harley because beetles and larger insects really hurt when they hit my bare cheek at 70 mph, and back in those days there were more than enough insects to notice. In my younger years I could even hear bees plainly when they smacked on the windshield of my car.
But last summer, something was out of whack.
"I'm not killing as many butterflies with the 4Runner as I once did," I said offhand to my pal, fellow butterfly enthusiast and wife, Sue. And she remarked, "Yes, I was noticing that, too.
"I think all the insects we do see nowadays are wearing gas masks and carrying red flags that say, 'HELP!'" Sue mused. "And when I mention declining insects to some people, their response is, 'Good Riddance!' What they haven't stopped to consider is that the soil-grown food we eat is wholly dependent on insects for pollination, and insects in turn are the only food for a myriad of animals. E. O. Wilson has said it many times, 'Insects are the little things that run the world.' We need to celebrate, not desecrate, them."
Local retired family doctor Stu Garrett has been concerned about the declining population of our sage-grouse. He's looked into habitat loss and the possibility of West Nile virus impacting the grouse, but now he's exploring a possible link between insect loss and bird survival. "The sage-grouse chicks between 0 and 8 weeks need lots of insects and caterpillars or they die," he notes.
When I got home, I drove myself down to two local stores to look over their chemical supplies. In both stores, shelf after shelf, hundreds of gallon cans that contained chemical after chemical, all advertised to kill, kill and kill! It appeared to me there was enough stuff in those stores to kill insects and weeds from Sisters to Prineville.
That very afternoon, we received an e-mail from a pal in France telling us how alarmed French entomologists were becoming because of the disappearance of insect pollinators in eastern France and western Germany.
A recent article in The Washington Post by Ben Guarino, '''Hyperalarming' study shows massive insect loss," states, "In 2014, an international team of biologists estimated that, in the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates such as beetles and bees has decreased by 45%. ...A study last year showed a 76% decrease in flying insects in the past few decades in German nature preserves." That sounds like mass extinction...
The best man I know who would have an answer is Robert Michael Pyle: writer, author, butterfly expert, insect researcher and founder of the Xerces Society, a Northwest research organization that champions invertebrates.
In our last e-mail, this is what he had to say in response to my concerns: "And yes—I agree with you that biocides are definitely one of the major factors leading to insect losses. There are many others, which Xerces has been working to identify and counteract for 47 years as of December 9th!
"Habitat alteration, warming and drying with climate change, and intensification of agriculture are high among them—the latter has directly brought about most butterfly declines in the U.K. (see the excellent recent book, The Moth Snowstorm, which details this history).
"But the huge chemical load in the environment is surely one of the leading causes of insect populations collapsing. In particular, the neonicotinoid pesticides are to bees and butterflies what organophosphates were to eagles, ospreys, and Rachel Carson's songbirds. Here is one place to read about this, on the Xerces website: http://xerces.org/neonicotinoids-and-bees. Europe, apparently, is making some progress on banning neonics, but they are everywhere over here.
"The recent articles about widespread insect decline have indeed been sobering, and even worse than we anticipated at the outset of Xerces. Several long-term butterfly monitoring programs are suggesting the same, though not everywhere, yet—we're still pretty well off in the Cascades. We can only hope it won't spread and get worse!"
When that man stops and listens and watches, believe me, we ALL better listen, watch and DO SOMETHING!
My gut feeling is we have saturated our world with chemicals, and insects are setting off the first alarm. No, I'll take that back. Perhaps the first alarm has been ringing for a long time — all the cancer that's plaguing our society.
Please take all that chemical goop in your garage and shop to the county chemical disposal site and keep it out of circulation. Please don't use any more for a convenient dose here and there. There are more than enough people growing gardens and flower beds with chemicals to saturate our soils with stuff that kills, kills and kills.
Another suggestion: plant a pollinator-attracting garden. Not only will it improve the health of your landscaping, but will also bring a colorful array of butterflies to your yard to delight you and the hungry baby birds.
And after you're through here, open the Xerces Society website, The Xerces Society's Bee City USA Initiative and follow the links to the Mason Bee. You'll have a beautiful trip into the world of one of our amazing insects. Maybe you'll fall in love with them!