EHS Management

President’s Pollinator Protection Strategy

Even as we swat away the last bees of summer and watch the occasional butterfly flit among flowers, agriculturalists are feeling the impact of the dwindling numbers of the pollinators we depend on for food crops. According to the White House, honey bees alone provide pollination for “at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America,” contributing more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. Combined, all species of pollinators, including bees, bats, butterflies, and birds, contribute more than 24 billion to the national economy, and worldwide, pollinate 87 of the 115 leading foods crops evaluated.

The decline of honey bee colonies is one of the most critical. The number of managed honey bee colonies in the United States has dropped from 6 million in 1947 to just 2.5 million today, posing a real and serious threat to U.S. agriculture. Some crops rely more heavily than others on honey bees, making them the most threatened. For example, almonds depend on honey bees almost exclusively for pollination. California’s almond industry, which provides 80 percent of the planet’s almond production and about $4.8 billion annually, requires more than 60 percent of U.S. beehives to pollinate the crop, or approximately 1.4 million beehives.

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Considering this need, the ongoing decline of honey bee colonies could eventually have catastrophic consequences. According to the White House, since 2006 commercial beekeepers have experienced average winter loss rates of 30 percent, compared to historical loss rates of 10 to 15 percent, although the 2013-2014 loss rates were down somewhat to 23.2 percent from 30.5 percent the year before. Another line item to consider is the cost to beekeepers, which is about $200 for each of the estimated 10 million beehives lost. Then there is the additional cost of rebuilding colonies, all of which in turn drive up the costs of commercial pollination. In the case of almonds, the cost for renting a beehive in 2003 was about $50, but rose to $175 in 2009.

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To address the ongoing pollinator losses, President Obama announced the creation of a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, to protect the pollinators, the security of agriculture and the sustainability of our nation’s food production systems. The Strategy has three main elements for implementing pollinator protection:

1) Establishing the Pollinator Task Force which will be co-chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and will include representatives from several other federal departments, councils, foundations, offices, and agencies.

2) Mission and Function of the Task Force is to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy with goals, milestone and progress measurement metrics, to include:

  • Pollinator Research Action plan focusing on understanding, preventing and recovering from pollinator losses and encompassing a broad range of efforts to study pollinator stressors, information sharing/partnerships, pollinator status assessments, pollinator-friendly plant development, pesticide disease exposure reduction, and pollinator habitat restoration.
  • Public Education Plan to enlist the help of individuals, businesses, schools, and organizations.
  • Public-Private Partnerships with states, tribes, local governments, farmers, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations.
  • Task Force member agency reporting on implementation of 3) below.

3) Increasing and Improving Pollinator Habitat beginning with Task Force members developing plans to increase pollinator protection and habitat on their own managed lands and facilities. This may also include permit evaluations and best management practices on right-of-way easements (for power lines, pipelines, etc.), and other actions relevant to specific departments’ and agencies’ own areas of expertise and jurisdiction. For example, among the many mandates are the EPA assessing effects of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on pollinators, the Army Corps of Engineers incorporating habitat conservation practices at resource development projects, and the Department of Defense supporting habitat restoration at military service installations.

The Task Force will develop the strategy and the plans within 180 days of the Memorandum’s publication in the Federal Register, which was June 20, 2014.