Pollinators 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 a significant loss of pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies, from the environment. The number of migrating Monarch butterflies sank to the lowest recorded population level in 2013-14, and there is an imminent risk of failed migration.
Now, the problem has become so serious that President Obama announced that the situation, “requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment.”
Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States. The President is worried that a continued loss of commercial honey bee colonies poses a threat to the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States, which could have profound implications for agriculture and food.
Scientists believe that bee losses are likely caused by a combination of stressors, including poor bee nutrition, loss of forage lands, parasites, pathogens, lack of genetic diversity, and exposure to pesticides.
Continuous yearly declines create concern that bee colony losses could reach a point from which the commercial pollination industry would not be able to adequately recover. The loss of native bees, which also play a key role in pollination of crops, is much less studied, but many native bee species are believed to be in decline.
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.
In order to combat such stark realizations, President Obama signed an executive order calling for a “Pollinator Health Task Force”, which will research the declining population, educate the public on their findings, and foment public-private partnerships to help mitigate the problem.
Although the executive order was a victory for the environmentalist community, the President has taken a thorough, study-first-act-later approach that has frustrated environmentalists. Many activists believe President Obama did not go far enough, and are miffed that the President balked at halting the use of neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides linked with the collapse of honey bee colonies.
“The administration should prevent the release and use of these toxic pesticides until determined safe,” Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica told Reuters.