The White House strategy lays out a goal to reduce winter losses of managed honeybees to no more than 15 percent in the next 10 years. Winter losses of managed honeybees for the 2014-2015 season topped 23.1 percent, according to a survey released last week. Beekeepers say that the maximum level of losses they can experience and still remain economically viable is 18.7 percent. Part of the White House’s strategy to reduce bee losses will be ramping up research and surveying efforts on honeybees, in an attempt to determine what stressors are most dangerous to bees and what are the best ways to manage bees’ habitat.
The strategy, which grew out of a pollinator task force created by executive order last year, doesn’t just tackle managed honeybees — bees that are kept by beekeepers to pollinate crops around the country. It also singles out monarch butterflies, another pollinator that has been facing serious declines over the last several years.
Over the last two decades, monarch populations have declined by 90 percent, a drop that has been precipitated in part by removal of milkweed — a key food source for monarch larvae — along with changing weather patterns, and deforestation. The White House wants to increase the eastern monarch butterfly population to 225 million butterflies by 2020, a goal it aims to accomplish through public-private partnerships and actions in both the U.S. and Mexico, where the butterflies spend the winter.
The strategy also spells out a goal to “restore or enhance” seven million acres of pollinator-friendly habitat over the next five years. That goal will help native pollinators, such as wild bees and butterflies, as well as managed honeybees. Last year, summer losses for managed honeybees exceeded winter losses for the first time, and Dennis VanEngelsdorp, assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, told ThinkProgress that poor bee nutrition due to meadows being plowed under for crops might have contributed to the summer losses.
Not only is this good for the environment and the ecosystem, but it's good business too. Pollinated crops are worth billions of dollars every year, from blueberries to okra to watermelon to sunflowers to cabbage and a whole range more. We'd be in a hell of a fix without honeybees, and it's excellent that the White House is taking this seriously.