A new plan announced by the federal government is designed to stem the tide in the decline of America’s honeybee and monarch butterfly populations. The new plan, announced in a blog post on Monday by White House science adviser John Holdren, will work to make federal land more bee-friendly, increase funding for research and continue to investigate a reduction or ban on the use of certain pesticides.
The health of honeybees is a huge issue because they pollinate $15 billion of U.S. crops. Moreover, scientists say pollinators such as bees play a major role in the almost one third of the foods and beverages produced globally. This means the colony collapse disorder that leads to bee deaths has become a media-fueled free for all with a slew of competing studies on both sides.
“Bees are the canary in the coal mine for our food system,” commented Lisa Archer, director of the food and technology program for Friends of the Earth U.S.
“All hands on deck” strategy to save bees
Entomologists say bees have been hurt by a combination of declining foraging area, mites, disease and pesticides. The federal plan outlined in Holdren’s blog today calls for an “all hands on deck” strategy where all parties from federal bureaucrats to average citizens will do what they can to save the bees.
A little good news
Bee researchers point out that CCD deaths among bees varies greatly from year to year. This last winter, beekeepers reported that they lost around 23% of their bee colonies. Scientists point out that figure is notably less than the 31% loss recorded for the winter of 2012-2013 or the 29% average loss seen over the last eight-years.
Beekeepers note, however, that losses of greater than around 19% of their bees leads to a continued reduction in the overall honeybee population.
Neonicotinoid pesticides harm bees
A new report, published online in the Bulletin of Insectology, claims that the use of two types of neonicotinoids increases the risk to honeybee colonies over the winter, especially in very cold winters.
The new study has become a rallying cry for environmentalists and others who want to ban neonicotinoids in the U.S. Of note, pesticides based on nicotine have been banned in Europe for a number of years.
“Neonicotinoids are ‘our new DDT’ and should be banned from use until they have been demonstrated, independently and conclusively, to be safe for the environment and for human health,” said Eric Chivian, who is a beekeeper and the founder of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School
New study says controlling mites is also beneficial
The Bee Informed survey of more than 7,000 beekeepers examined another threat to bees: the parasitic Varroa mites. The survey determined that bee mortality was significantly lower for beekeepers who regularly treated their bee hives to control the mites.
“We think we could take a bite out of some of these losses if you control the mites properly,” Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland and the director of the Bee Informed Partnership, told NBC News in a recent interview.