As discussed in previous blogs for D&B on bees, Bees contribute substantially to the economy of the United States and are vital to keeping fruits, nuts and vegetables in our diets. Over the past few decades, there has been significant loss of pollinators-including honeybees, native bees, birds, bats and butterflies-from the environment. The problem is serious and poses a significant challenge that needs to be addressed to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impacts on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment. The number of managed honey bee colonies in the United States has declined steadily over the past 60 years, from 6 million colonies (beehives) in 1947 to 4 million in 1970, and just 2.5 million today. Given the heavy dependence of certain crops on commercial pollination, reduced honey bee populations pose a real threat to domestic agriculture. Since 2006 commercial beekeepers in the United States have seen honey bee colony loss rates increase to an average of 30 percent each winter, compared to historical loss rates of 10-15 percent. In 2013-2014 the overwintering loss rate was 23.2 percent, down from 30.5 percent the previous year but still greater than the historical averages the self- reported acceptable winter mortality rate.
This past year has seen significant progress in raising issues with pollinators, especially honey bees and native bees. I take a look at two events I feel are very significant.
At the federal level, on June 20, 2014, the White House issued a “Presidential Memorandum—Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.” The strategy is directed to all federal agencies and is designed to “expand Federal efforts and take new steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels.” The text of the memo lists a number of goals and comments on pollinator health, and has a focus on setting up a government-wide task force, along with directives about research into the factors affecting pollinator health and suggestions to improve pollinator habitat. The role and possible impacts of pesticides on pollinators are mentioned, but are not prominent. Specifically, the memo mentions that one of the strategies to conserve is to include “identification of existing and new methods and best practices to reduce pollinator exposure to pesticides, and new cost-effective ways to control bee pests and diseases.’ Finally, it directs the new federal task force to report back to Obama in six months. EPA and USDA have hosted two “listening sessions” on the memo in November in Washington, D.C.
On, October 2-23, 2014, I attended the fourteenth annual North American Pollinator Protection Conference in Washington D.C. This conference brings together groups of like-minded people who hear about current status issues with pollinators and to work on task force teams that address ways to improve the health of pollinators. I currently set on the group working to establish pollinator gardens throughout the U.S. A program known as the Bee Friendly Farming (BFF) initiative is a nonprofit group which recognizes and rewards those who commit a small percent of their land-farm, ranch, pasture, orchard, vineyards or fallow land-to growing bee friendly plantings with other bee beneficial practices. “Bee Friendly Farmer” is an inclusive term that is Bee Friendly for ANYONE who supports bees directly or indirectly-beekeepers, farms, ranches, businesses, schools, local governments, nonprofits, and gardeners. The BFF initiative is an important means of raising consumer recognition and support for helping bees by (1) recognizing those who provide bee habitat, and or (2) supporting bees by purchasing farm products and local honey bearing the BFF logo.
Safe lands are those that offer lots of nutrition for bees, allowing many different flowering plants to flourish throughout the growing season, especially in Spring and Autumn. Safe lands offer clean water, the prudent use of chemicals and a variety of habitat through features such as hedgerows or natural brush. To register go online (www.pfspbees.org) to answer a set questions to answer, related to how you offer safe lands. Once qualified, your location is pinned on a map and you are then able to use the BFF logo to indicate that your products or services are produced on lands that promote pollinator health. Signs may be purchases for your farm (or garden). Additionally, pare of the $35 annual fees collect are returned to members in the form of mini-grants for pollinator plantings, worth up to $750. Look for more updates as we move forward on this project.
It is becoming very apparent that a primary answer to maintaining bee health is with the American consumer who receives the food benefits provided by bees and now is the time to give back by providing bee friendly plantings throughout the U.S. Check out the following organizations to do your share.