White House Announces Plan to Save the Honeybees, Because It's Affecting the Economy
Help for a humble bug has come from the most unexpected place: the White House announced a plan to save honeybees nationwide on Friday. President Obama has created a task force of representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture to devise ways to protect all kinds of pollinators, from bats and butterflies to birds and bees. Who knew bees were scarier when they aren't around?
The decline of pollinator populations is actually a serious problem for the economy. According to a fact sheet released by the White House, "Pollinators contribute more than 24 billion dollars to the United States economy, of which honey bees account for more than 15 billion dollars through their vital role in keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets." 87 of the planet's 115 major food crops depend on animal pollinators, which accounts for 35 percent of the world's food. Honeybees alone are almost solely responsible for the pollination of about 90 commercial crops in the U.S., contributing "$15 billion in value to agricultural crops." So it's safe to say that this task force will be pretty important.
The domestic honeybee population has dropped from three million colonies in 1990 to just two-and-a-half million today. 60 years ago, the U.S. had six million active honeybee colonies. The drastic drop in honeybees' worldwide population has been dubbed colony collapse disorder, and until last month policy-makers weren't entirely sure what caused it. But after new research emerged placing most blame for the problem on certain insecticides, authorities can have better-informed discussions about what to do next.
The plan to rebuild pollinator populations and to conserve those that already exist is scheduled to be finalized in six months. Among the goals are to further research causes of pollinator decline, educate the public about the animals' and insects' importance (for the last time, they'll leave you alone if you leave them alone), and partnering with federal agencies like the Department of Transportation and the Army Corps of Engineers to protect their habitats. The USDA will also offer $8 billion to farmers in five states to establish new honeybee colonies. In addition to the honeybee focus, the task force will work on strategies to address the decline in monarch butterflies that are migrating each year.
Unfortunately, there was no specific mention in the vaguely worded official memoranda about neonicotinoids, the insecticides thought to be responsible for colony collapse disorder. We can only hope the task force notes their effect on honeybee populations before it's too late.