Beekeepers lost more than 40% of honeybee colonies in the last year alone. In response, the Obama administration announced plans to save the honey bee.
On Tuesday, May 19th, the Obama administration unveiled the first National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. Honey bees are a busy workforce that sustain many American crops. Some estimates put the economic value of their activities at roughly 5 billion a year. While bee colonies regularly die off during winter because of stressful conditions, their sharp decline has been called a potential ecological disaster by some environmentalists and academic experts; conservative Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) described it in an interview as “an essential thing [that] we need to pay attention to.”
“I have to say that it is mighty darn lovely having the White House acknowledge the indigenous, unpaid and invisible workforce that somehow has managed to sustain all terrestrial life without health-care subsidies, or a single COLA, for that past 250 million years,” said Sam Droege, a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist and one of the country’s foremost experts on native bee identification.
Over the past five years, winter losses of commercial honeybee colonies have averaged roughly 30 percent. A consortium of universities and research laboratories announced last week that beekeepers lost 42.1 percent of their colonies between April 2014 and 2015.
Monarch butterflies are similarly suffering. During this past winter, the butterflies occupied just 10 percent of the habitat in Mexico that they did a couple of decades earlier.
Obama’s National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators aims to reduce honeybee colony losses during winter to no more than 15 percent within a decade, and increase the Eastern population of the monarch butterfly so that 225 million butterflies occupy roughly 15 acres of wintering grounds in Mexico by 2020. The government and private entities will also restore or enhance 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years.
Among other initiatives, the federal government will seek to increase the size of pollinator habitats, encourage training of future bee scientists and establish seed banks for bee-friendly plants.
The Obama administration has proposed spending 2.5 million on honeybee research in the upcoming budget year – up from the current 4 million.
John P. Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology, said in an interview that the president is concerned about the issue not just because of bees’ economic impact, but also because of the “canary in the coal mine” phenomenon. “If honeybee colonies are collapsing for a reason we don’t understand, what is that telling us about our overall impacts and understanding of the ecosystems on which we depend?”
Environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice have been pressuring the Environmental Protection Agency to outlaw neonicotinoid pesticides, which are already banned in Europe, on the grounds that they are toxic to bees. For now the only action being taken is that the EPA issued a moratorium on approving any new use permits for these kinds of insecticides, and will accelerate its review of the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides. The EPA will issue its first assessment at the end of this year and will finalize regulatory action by the end of 2018. The agency will also impose new restrictions on what pesticides farmers can use when commercial honeybees are pollinating their crops.
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Agriculture subcommittee on biotechnology, horticulture and research, said he’s “glad the administration is putting an emphasis on the pollinator issue,” even though he thinks the EPA is unduly focused on pesticides’ impact compared with the varroa mite, a deadly parasite.
Davis noted that the EPA recently concluded soybean producers received little benefit from seeds coated with neonicotinoids, while the Agriculture Department disagreed. “We need to know what the best avenue for success is,” he said.
Simon Fraser University biology professor Mark Winston, however, said the administration is not pushing big agricultural producers hard enough to grow diverse crops and dramatically cut the amount of toxic pesticides they put on crops.
“If you don’t change farming and you don’t change pesticide use, you’re not going to make substantial changes in the health of pollinators,” Winston said.
###How You Can Help
#####All of us can take action by planting flowers that bees love, such as lavender, hollyhock, geranium, sweet asylum, poppy and sunflower… and by absolutely not using pesticides on our yards or our gardens. Done collectively, this can have a significant impact!
####Spread the word, because it will help save the bees.