Government to Tackle Honeybee Decline

     

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The White House has announced a new taskforce to help restore and protect populations of bees and other pollinators.

      In the past few decades, the population of honey bees in the United States has dropped dramatically. There is an estimated 2.5 million honey bee colonies nationwide, down from 4 million in 1970. The number of migrating monarch butterflies last year was the smallest of any year on record.

     Because pollinators like bees and butterflies play a crucial role in helping plants grow, the population drops have alarmed scientists and politicians alike.

      Almonds, for example, are pollinated mostly by honey bees, and the $4.8 billion almond industry in California uses around 60 percent of the nation's beehives to pollinate their crops, the White House said.

      While there is not yet a scientific consensus for the reason behind the decline of pollinator populations, there evidence mounting that certain pesticides, loss of genetic diversity, and climate change could be at fault.

      President Barack Obama announced the creation of a new Pollinator Health Task Force in a memorandum issued Friday to address the population declines.

      The task force will be co-chaired by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Gina McCarthy, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

     The memo directs the task force to develop goals based on existing studies about bee populations and expand data collection related to their decline.

     Among other things, the task force will look for strategies to reduce bees' exposure to pesticides and how to develop seed mixes and "native pollinator-friendly plants" to keep bee populations.

     The task force's strategy will also include a public education campaign to teach local communities about restoring pollinator populations. The campaign will be "aimed at individuals, corporations, small businesses, schools, libraries, and museums."

     The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior are to develop best management practices for agencies, and establish a seed mix reserve of pollinator-friendly plants to use on rehabilitation projects, such as controlled burns.

Where possible, the Department of Agriculture is also to work with state and local governments to expand the acreage of pollinator habitats in its conservation programs.