Improving pollinator health requires collaboration, public-private partnerships

By Dave Fischer

During the summer of 2014, the White House administration and supporting federal agencies took a bold step to show that pollinator health is a national priority. Recognizing the challenges facing honey bees, the administration noted that declining colony health could pose a threat to our economy, since these pollinators “alone add more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year” (White House).

As a result of this concern, the administration issued a Presidential memorandum to address several bee health stressors, including poor bee nutrition, loss of habitat, parasites, lack of genetic diversity, and exposure to pesticides.

This memorandum created the Pollinator Health Task Force, which was made up of representatives from federal departments and agencies. In May of last year, the task force officially released its Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, promoting three overarching goals:

  1. Reduce honey bee colony losses to economically sustainable levels;
  2. Increase monarch butterfly numbers to protect the annual migration; and
  3. Restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators through combined public and private action (White House).

A fundamental aspect of this strategy is for members of the public and private sectors to work together to promote bee health. In an “all-hands-on-deck approach,” the task force asked citizens and government representative across the U.S. to be active and creative in efforts to protect pollinators and strive toward reaching a long-term solution.

At the federal level, the USDA is conducting at least 12 research projects on topics ranging from impacts of pesticides to the effects on seasonal pollens on bee health. This research is only part of wide range of studies conducted by federal, state and private groups that will enable us to better understand bee pollination habits and their health needs. In order to promote greater collaboration, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to launch customized Managed Pollinator Protection Plans (MP3) for states to adopt as they best see fit to meet the needs of their agricultural and beekeeping industries. The drive behind MP3 is to increase communication among all stakeholders when it comes to the intersection of agriculture and bee health. This communication enables growers to successfully manage pests, while also engaging in responsible pesticide usage to better protect pollinator health.

The task force has sparked multiple organizations and agencies to follow suit and promote bee health outside the federal government, as well. The Pollinator Partnership is the largest organization dedicated to promoting pollinator health and has signed 11 protection agreements with federal agencies, resulting in more than 1.5 billion acres of managed land being restored to healthy habitat. The organization also has multiple educational initiatives, including National Pollinator Week each year in June, which was recognized by all 50 states last year. The Pollinator Partnership also runs the Corn Dust Research Consortium, which supports research and stewardship on the proper use of treated corn seeds.

In addition, forty different organizations and agencies have come together to form the Honey Bee Health Coalition. The mission of the coalition is to collaboratively develop and implement solutions to the challenges bees face in order to support native and managed pollinators. They aim to bring together beekeepers, researchers, agencies, conservationists, agribusiness and growers to improve bee health, particularly around production agriculture. The coalition is invested in research and relies heavily on science for its decision-making process.

Project Apis m., the leading non-profit honey bee research organization, working with the support of Bayer is leading another pollinator health research initiative called Healthy Hives 2020, which launched spring 2015. As the name suggests, this initiative is “focused on finding tangible solutions that will improve the health of honey bee colonies in the United States by the year 2020” (Healthy Hives 2020). Healthy Hives 2020 is only one initiative involving Bayer’s Bee Care Program, which also includes a North American Bee Care Center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. The Bee Care Program’s Feed a Bee initiative has helped to educate thousands of individuals on the importance of bees in food production, as well as advocating for planting flowers and other vegetation to help feed bees.

You can learn more about the White House’s pollinator initiatives by visiting whitehouse.gov.

To learn more about the Bayer Bee Care Program, visit beehealth.bayer.us.