Honeybees are vital for pollinating plants that provide the fruits, nuts, and vegetables that we eat, a service that is valued at around $15 billion annually in the United States. But these and other bees are in trouble, as you may have heard–while there were 6.5 million commercial honeybee hives in 1947, there are now only 2.5 million–and bee populations saw a 23 percent decline last winter alone. Now, the White House is getting involved, and has directed the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture to set up a task force to get to the bottom of the recent decline in bees.
The task force will have to come up with a strategy within six months to reverse this decline. In the announcement, President Obama said he will also set aside $8 million for new honeybee habitats. The initiative doesn’t only focus on bees, but also addresses other pollinators, like butterflies. “The Federal Government will also work to restore the Monarch butterfly migration using research and habitat improvements that will benefit Monarchs as well as other native pollinators and honey bees,” the statement said.
What’s going on with bees? As the White House noted, the decline is blamed on various factors, from a lack of good habitat, to exposure to certain pesticides, to mite infestations and viruses. Part of the total $50 million is slated to “enhance research” as to a cause for the bee deaths.
Some environmental groups said that Obama didn’t go far enough, and should have specifically done some about neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been linked to bee deaths. “The administration should prevent the release and use of these toxic pesticides until determined safe,” Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica told the AP.