As the City of Longview considered bringing back the use of a controversial insecticide to deal with its aphid problems, the issue alarmed not only some the adults of the community. Among the most concerned were students at Monticello Middle School.
Eight students who participate in the school’s “Edible Monticello” after-school gardening program decided to fight the proposed use of Imidacloprid, a widely used insecticide that is known to have harmful affects on bees by causing neurological damage over time.
The students researched the pesticide and wrote letters to Longview City Council members asking them to reconsider using the chemical.
The Council on March 9 voted 4-2 to prepare an ordinance allowing use of the insecticide and intended to vote on the ordinance at Thursday’s meeting. But after receiving student letters and community phone calls opposed to using the pesticide, the ordinance died when no council member seconded a motion to adopt it.
“I thought it was kind of cool because I don’t like that most of the time it’s adults who get to talk about this and they don’t really take into consideration what kids have to say about it,” student Alaena Spencer said Tuesday. “Because when you think about it, it’s us who are going to be growing up and their choices are going to impact our life later on.”
The students wrote heartfelt and thoroughly researched letters that cited the long-term damaging effects on bees and other wildlife.
“The insecticide, Imidacloprid, impairs the honey bee larvae’s nervous system,” wrote student Katie Lyons. “It ruins the bee’s ability to learn and therefore impairs their ability to find food and their way home.”
Katie continued to explain that if the bees die, crops would not get pollinated.
“And when crops don’t get fertilized (pollinated),” Katie continued, “food for the human race isn’t produced.”
According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, about 30 percent of the world’s food crops are pollinated by bees and account for about $15 billion of agriculture in the United States alone.
The students first learned of the proposed insecticide use from garden volunteer Nancy Stone. Stone runs the after school gardening and cooking group with science teacher Michael Bixby and his wife, Maria Peyer. About 20 students stay after school a couple of days during the week to garden and prepare meals with healthy ingredients.
When the students learned about the insecticide, several were eager to research and get involved.
“They were kind of using their persuasive writing lessons from English class as well as their science, biology knowledge and research they did on bees in particular,” volunteer Maria Peyer said. “It was a real full circle and a rich opportunity for them to have a voice about something they cared very strongly about and impacted them directly and what they were doing in the garden.”
Bixby noted that the project was “kid-directed.”
“They took this and ran with this,” Bixby said. “The adults kind of helped out a little bit and steered them in the right direction and clarified a couple things, but it’s something they took ownership of.”
After writing letters, Bixby scanned and sent them to council members. Members Mike Wallin and Steve Moon responded with follow up questions.
The students then took their activism to the March 23 Longview Council meeting, expecting the issue to be discussed. While they were hoping they would get the chance to stand up and speak against the use of the insecticide, they were unable to because the matter just died.
“If I didn’t get to say a couple words, that’s fine. The bees are saved,” Katie Lyons said.
But the students still made an impression on council members. Wallin stopped by the garden program on Friday to congratulate the students on their efforts.
“I think it’s so incredibly valuable to have kids at a young age realize the importance of participating in government,” Wallin said. “We work for the residents, we work for the taxpayers, for the citizens. It’s so incredibly important that they provide their input.”
Wallin said that the city has other alternatives to using chemicals. In the past, the city has removed infested birch trees on a case-by-case basis. In 2013 and 2014, 100 city-owned trees were removed each year.
Wallin said that the council was open to other alternatives as well, though none were proposed at Thursday’s meeting.