On May 19th, the federal Pollinator Health Task Force released a new plan to reverse the rapidly declining honeybee and monarch butterfly populations. The “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators” calls for making millions of acres of federal land more suitable for bee colonies, as well as spending millions on research and possibly using fewer pesticides which have been linked to cancer.
Around 2006, commercial beekeepers began reporting what has become known as colony collapse disorder— entire colonies of bees died off with no obvious cause. The disorder has been reported in commercial colonies all over the world.
“While putting different type of landscapes along highways, federal housing projects and elsewhere may not sound like much in terms of action, several bee scientists told The Associated Press that this a huge move. They say it may help pollinators that are starving because so much of the American landscape has been converted to lawns and corn that don’t provide foraging areas for bees.
“This is the first time I’ve seen addressed the issue that there’s nothing for pollinators to eat,” said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum, who buttonholed President Barack Obama about bees when she received her National Medal of Science award last November. “I think it’s brilliant.”‘
White House science adviser John Holdren discussed declining bee populations and monarch butterflies, stating that “pollinators are struggling.”
Under the plan 7 million acres of bee habitats would be restored over the next five years. This will require a move from monocropping (growing a single crop at a time) to more diverse planting for the pollinators. The changes will affect the Department of Interior, Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Transportation.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency will increase studies into the safety of controversial neonicotinoid pesticides. The “Neonics” are a class of pesticides which have previously been linked to declines in bee populations. They were developed in 1991 and commercial use began in the mid-1990s. Several studies have implicated Neonics, which are used to kill insects harmful to crops, as a possible cause for colony collapse disorder.
Recently researchers with Lund University in Sweden found that wild bee populations exposed to the nicotine-based systemic insecticides had a reduction in density, less reproduction and colonies that did not experience growth.
The Swedish scientists conducted the study in the wild, the first of its kind. They examined 16 patches of land with canola seeds, half of which were sprayed with the pesticide and the other half which were not sprayed. The researchers found that wild bees displayed negative health effects while honeybee populations, which pollinate crops with assistance from humans, did not display the illness.
A second study found that in laboratory tests bees are not deterred by the pesticide but may in fact prefer crops sprayed with the chemicals. This could indicate an addiction to the nicotine in the pesticides. Both studies were published in the journal Nature.
Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director for the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, told the AP that the plan was still not enough. Friends of the Earth food program director Lisa Archer expressed similar sentiments, stating, “Failure to address this growing crisis with a unified and meaningful federal plan will put these essential pollinators and our food supply in jeopardy.”