The White House on Tuesday unveiled a plan to curb pollinator losses by expanding pollinator habitat acreage, funding additional scientific review of the issues affecting pollinator populations and supporting public-private partnerships that foster pollinator health.
The report follows a June 2014 Presidential Memorandum that proposed a federal strategy to reduce pollinator losses.
Research has found that potential causes for pollinator losses could be as varied as pesticide exposure, including neonicotinoids found in seed treatments; pests; poor diets; changing farm and hive management practices; limited habitat or forage; and others.
Last year, about 23.1% of the managed colonies in the U.S. were lost over the winter, according to a May report from the Bee Informed Partnership in collaboration with the Apiary Inspectors of America and USDA.
The report also showed significant losses of 27.4% in the summer of 2014 – an increase from summer losses of 19.8% in 2013.
The White House plan aims to control these losses with five main activities: Setting a baseline by taking inventory of current pollinator conditions; Assessing environmental stressors; Restoring habitat; Understanding and supporting stakeholders; and Curating and sharing knowledge.
Along with the new plan, USDA and the Department of the Interior released a set of Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices for Federal Lands, which provides practical information for farmers, planners and land managers.
The National Corn Growers Association and Bayer CropScience each supported the new pollinator actions, with NCGA highlighting the moves toward public-private partnerships.
The group called for continued discussion and collaboration between farmers, industry, and government about how to ensure a health and robust population of honeybees and other pollinators.
Bayer CropScience, a key supporter of pollinator initiatives, said the strategy was a "balanced and multi-faceted approach to improving pollinator health."
Dr. Becky Langer, head of Bayer CropScience’s North American Bee Care Program, emphasized that while there are overwintering losses, populations in the U.S. are not declining.
“[Bee populations] face many complex challenges, some of which we’re only just beginning to fully understand," Langer said. "Improving honey bee health will take a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including the public, and this strategy will help provide a framework for our collective response."
Despite the support, the Center for Food Safety criticized the plan as a move toward "communications, outreach, and research, but it has few concrete actions aimed at protecting pollinators from the unique risks of systemic, highly insecticide," said CFS executive director Andrew Kimbrell.
Insecticides have been under increasing scrutiny as a potential cause of pollinator losses and the U.S. EPA is considering the effect of certain insecticides like neonicotinoid seed treatments on honeybees.
A 2013 USDA-EPA joint federal report also considered insecticides' role in losses, but cited other concerns like parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and potential pesticide exposure.