President Obama on Friday announced plans to save endangered honey bees and other pollinators for the first time ordering a probe into new types of pesticides that some local governments and 15 European Union nations have restricted or banned.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced $8 million in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) 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 announcement comes 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.
The initial memo isn’t exactly revolutionary, it creates a task force and gives it six months to come up with a plan. There’s no new funding or regulation.
But there’s some muscle in this memo. It directs the departments in the executive branch to start increasing pollinator habitat. If the Department of Transportation starts planting butterfly gardens along every highway and the Department of Defense does the same on military bases, that’s a lot of real estate. There’s even more real estate under the control of the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture is also supposed to help out by planting native seed mixes after forest fires and helping farmers and ranchers plant for pollinators in their extra space could bloom.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the agriculture department will lead the effort which includes $8m (£4.7m) for new honey bee habitats. Bee populations saw a 23% decline last winter, a trend blamed on the loss of genetic diversity exposure to certain pesticides and other factors.
The long-awaited plan creates a ‘Pollinator Health Task Force’ that has 180 days to come up with a plan to save bees, butterflies and other pollinators. The goal is to get rid of fields of harmful pesticides while planting food for the bugs even on military bases and along railroad tracks. Virtually every Cabinet department will be included on the task force.
U.S. farmers have gotten better and better at controlling weeds in their fields and that’s been a disaster for monarch butterflies. Monarchs rely on one specific field plant: milkweed. They can’t survive without it. The population of both milkweed and monarchs have taken a tumble with the rise of effective weed control via the herbicide glyphosate and GMO crops that tolerate glyphosate. At the same time, honey bees have been dying off because of the mysterious colony collapse disorder and many native bee populations are foundering.
There has also been an increase in a condition called colony collapse disorder (CCD) in which there is a rapid, unexpected and catastrophic loss of bees in a hive. But other North American pollinators like the monarch butterfly have seen decreases in their populations as well.
Some environmental groups have criticized the president for not acting more directly including taking action against neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides linked to bee deaths.
“The administration should prevent the release and use of these toxic pesticides until determined safe,” Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica told Reuters.
“American agricultural production relies on having a healthy honey bee population,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “In recent years, factors such as diseases, parasites, pesticides or habitat loss have contributed to a significant decline in the honey bee population. 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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