Obama creates task force to stem decline in honey bee population

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 20, 2014 - President Obama capped off National Pollinator Week Friday by ordering the creation of a federal task force to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators. As part of the strategy, USDA is directed to develop best management practices to enhance pollinator habitat on federal lands and use the department's conservation programs to increase the acreage and forage value of pollinator habitat.

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In a memorandum, the president also tasked the EPA with assessing the effects of pesticides, “including neonicotinoids,” on pollinator health. The White House notes that pesticides are among the “combination of stressors [that] likely caused” recent severe drops in honeybee populations, a syndrome that scientists are calling Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The memo orders executive departments and agencies to avoid the use of pesticides in sensitive pollinator habitats.

The number of managed U.S. honey bee colonies has dropped from 6 million in 1947 to just 2.5 million today, according to the White House. The decline threatens more than $15 billion worth of agricultural production - including over 130 fruits and vegetables - that depends on the health and well-being of honey bees. Poor bee nutrition, loss of forage lands, parasites, pathogens and lack of genetic diversity may also have a role in CCD, scientists say.

“Pollinators contribute substantially to the sustainability of our food production systems, the economic vitality of the agricultural sector, and the health of the environment,” Bob Perciasepe, deputy EPA administrator, and Krysta Harden, deputy USDA secretary, wrote in a joint blog post on the White House website.

The Pollinator Partnership, a non-profit organization devoted exclusively to the health and protection of pollinators, said the memorandum was “the result of a nearly 20-year campaign to increase awareness and action for pollinators and marks a new dawn of wise land management across the country.”

The document “demonstrates real leadership on the part of the President and his science team,” the group said in a statement.

In a separate announcement, USDA said it is providing $8 million in Conservation Reserve Program incentives for Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin farmers and ranchers who establish new habitats for declining honey bee populations.

More than half of the commercially managed honey bees are in these five states during the summer. The funds are in addition to $3 million USDA designated to the Midwest states to support bee populations earlier this year through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

“American agricultural production relies on having a healthy honey bee population," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release. “This $8 million is part of the administration's ongoing strategy to reverse these trends and establish more plant habitat on Conservation Reserve Program lands to restore the bee population."

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