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Pollinator Plan: Obama Commits to Saving Declining Honey Bees

Jun 23, 2014 03:50 PM EDT
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The White House announced Friday its commitment to saving the mysteriously declining honeybee population, putting a task force of federally-backed scientists on the case.

Many theories exist for why honeybees and butterflies are dropping like flies - pesticides, viruses, parasites, habitat loss - with little scientific consensus to back them up.

President Barack Obama charged participating experts with the task of coming up with a strategy within 180 days for addressing the issue of rapidly declining honeybees, butterflies and other pollinators, according to the presidential memorandum.

The Pollinator Health Task Force will also undertake efforts to increase public awareness of the issue and boost conservation partnerships between public and private sectors.

"Given the breadth, severity, and persistence of pollinator losses, it is critical to expand Federal efforts and take new steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels," the president wrote.

Honeybees pollinate fruit, nuts and vegetables, and are crucial for the nation's food industry, adding more than $15 billion to the US economy.

Over the past few decades, pollinator losses have been severe. The number of managed US honeybee colonies, for instance, dropped from six million in 1947 to just 2.5 million today, according to a White House fact sheet - a real problem considering the bees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America.

"Pollination is integral to food security in the United States," the memorandum wrote.

The plan also calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to research the role of neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides that have been implicated in the bee decline - though Obama has yet to ban its use.

"He could restrict neonicotinoids today as the European Union has done and he should do that if he wants to protect our pollinators, our food systems, and our environment," Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth US, said of the president, according to The Guardian.

The move by the White House bolsters the president's previous budget request for $50 million to study the factors behind bee losses and to protect pollinator habitat on federal lands.

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