The White House unveiled a National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators on May 19. The strategy seeks to arrest the catastrophic decline of such pollinators as honey bees and monarch butterflies, by making millions of acres of federal lands more habitable for bees and butterflies, while studying ways to reduce the havoc pesticides wreak on these and other key pollinators.
John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, noted that “pollinators are critical to the Nation’s economy, food security, and environmental health. Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year.”
For more than three decades, honey bees have been in serious decline in the United States. Between April 2014 and 2015, beekeepers lost over 42 percent of their colonies. Monarch butterfly populations, meanwhile, are also crashing—an apparent victim of altered weather patterns and industrial agricultural practices in the Midwest that eliminate their milkweed food supply (see Spring 2013 AWI Quarterly).
The Washington Post reports that, according to Holdren, the Obama administration is concerned not only about the bees’ economic impact, but also about what the decline says about our environment health in general: “‘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?’”
The question, however, is whether the plan is bold enough. While bee scientists are happy that the issue is finally getting some serious attention in Washington, many activists see the plan as grossly inadequate given the enormity and immediacy of the crisis. Many seek an outright ban (as in Europe) on neonicotinoid pesticides—considered a prime culprit in the bee population collapse. On this count, it is telling, perhaps, that CropLife America, a pesticide industry trade association, praised the plan for its “multi-pronged coordinated approach.” One could easily read that to mean they are happy because it leaves them to pursue business as usual… for now.