Toronto Star: US officials coming to rescue of bees

WASHINGTON—The White House and federal officials are coming to the rescue of the lowly honeybee, promising extra resources in an attempt to avert continued, major losses among the nation’s buzzing pollinators.

Citing population declines in the pollinators that help sustain many of the nation’s crops, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Friday conservation incentives for farmers and ranchers in five states — Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin — who establish new habitats for declining honeybee populations. More than half of the commercially managed honeybees are in those five states during the summer, the department said.

“American agricultural production relies on having a healthy honeybee population,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in announcing the program.

The department says that more than $15 billion worth of agricultural products — including more than 130 fruits and vegetables — depend on the services of bees for pollination. In California, for example, almonds are almost exclusively pollinated by honeybees, and the state’s industry, which is responsible for 80 per cent of global almond production, requires the pollination services of about 1.4 million beehives annually.

But the population of those insects has plummeted in recent decades. The number of managed honeybee colonies in the United States has declined from 6 million colonies — beehives — in 1947 to 2.5 million today. Since 2006, commercial beekeepers in the United States have seen honeybee colony losses over the winter months that are far higher than historic rates.

The reasons, however, are something of a mystery. According to federal officials, it’s due in part to the loss of natural forage, mite infestations and diseases, and exposure to certain pesticides. What’s known as “colony collapse disorder” results in a rapid, unexpected and catastrophic loss of bees in a hive. 

 Another step announced by the department Friday is a beefed-up conservation program that allows for managing or replacing existing vegetation to provide honeybees more blooms from which to collect nectar and pollen.