The federal government hopes to reverse America's declining honeybee and monarch butterfly populations by making more federal land bee-friendly, spending more money on research and considering the use of less pesticides.
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. "I think it's brilliant."
Environmental activists who wanted a ban on a much-criticized class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids said the Obama administration's bee strategy falls way short of what's needed to save the hives. "It has few concrete actions aimed at protecting pollinators from the unique risks of systemic, highly persistent insecticides," Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety, said in a statement.
Scientists say bees — crucial to pollinate many crops — have been hurt by a combination of declining nutrition, mites, disease and pesticides. The federal plan is an "all hands on deck" strategy that calls on everyone from federal bureaucrats to citizens to do what they can to save bees, which provide more than $15 billion in value to the U.S. economy, according to White House science adviser John Holdren.
"Pollinators are struggling," Holdren said in a blog post, citing a new federal survey that found beekeepers lost more than 40 percent of their colonies last year, although they later recovered by dividing surviving hives. He also said the number of monarch butterflies that spend the winter in Mexico's forests is down by 90 percent or more over the past two decades, so the U.S. government is working with Mexico to expand monarch habitat in the southern part of that country.
The strategy calls for restoring 7 million acres (2.8 million hectares) of bee habitat in the next five years. Numerous federal agencies will have to find ways to grow plants on federal lands that are more varied and better for bees to eat because scientists have worried that large land tracts that grow only one crop have hurt bee nutrition.
The administration proposes spending $82.5 million on honeybee research in the upcoming budget year, up $34 million from now.
The Environmental Protection Agency will step up studies into the safety of neonicotinoids, which have been temporarily banned in Europe. It will not approve new types of uses of the pesticides until more study is done, if then, the report said.
- Portland Bans Insecticide to Protect Declining Honey Bees
- Hope for the Honeybees? Experts Pitch Plan to Curb Deaths
- More Than 40 Percent of Bee Hives Died in Past Year: Study
This report has been supplemented with information from NBC News.