Bee Losses. Pesticides or Habitat Loss? EPA Uncertain

CATCH THE BUZZ    By Kim Flottum  November 26, 2014

By Paul Bedard, in Washington Secrets.

Over 100 scientists worldwide, citing 800 studies, are demanding that the Obama administration follow Europe’s lead and put a moratorium on the use of a new-style pesticide blamed for the deaths of 30 percent of American honeybees every year.

In a letter to the EPA and Agriculture Department, the scientists said there is overwhelming evidence from 800 studies that the pesticide family called neonicotinoids are to blame for the substantial declines in honeybees, bumblebees and butterflies, all pollinators needed to help farmers produce billions of dollars worth of food every year.

“The 108 signers of this letter therefore urge you to take immediate action to protect bees and other pollinators, particularly from pesticides known to be harmful,” said the letter provided to Secrets.

Despite actions by the European Union and some U.S. cities and states to limit use of the “neonics,” the administration is taking a go-slow approach.

“We share concerns about the decrease in the honey bee population, without question,” EPA Director Gina McCarthy told Secrets during a recent media roundtable sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

She seemed to blame the decade-long die-off of bees on development. “There are a number of factors that need to be considered, a lot of it could be attributable to habitat loss, and much of it might be,” she said.

McCarthy added that the EPA, under President Obama’s direction, is looking into the issue and holding listening sessions around the nation, but is not ready to act until the agency has thoroughly studied the science of the pesticides.

“There is no resolution off the table,” she said. But, she added, the agency won’t be “quick to judge.”

The scientists, from schools such as Harvard University and University of California, and as far away as Germany, however, said the issue has already been studied. They cited a June 2014 worldwide review of 800 studies by 29 independent researches that blamed the bee kills onneonics, which are typically treated on seeds and can stay in the ground for years.

They are blamed for disrupting the homing ability of bees heading back to the hive, a key issue on Colony Collapse Disorder.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com

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Winter Losses Still Too High

CATCH THE BUZZ    By Kim Flottum   May 15, 2014

WASHINGTON, May 15, 2014—A yearly survey of beekeepers, released today, shows fewer colony losses occurred in the United States over the winter of 2013-2014 than in recent years, but beekeepers say losses remain higher than the level that they consider to be sustainable. According to survey results, total losses of managed honey bee colonies from all causes were 23.2 percent nationwide. That number is above the 18.9 percent level of loss that beekeepers say is acceptable for their economic sustainability, but is a marked improvement over the 30.5 percent loss reported for the winter of 2012-2013, and over the eight-year average loss of 29.6 percent.

“Pollinators, such as bees, birds and other insects are essential partners for farmers and ranchers and help produce much of our food supply. Healthy pollinator populations are critical to the continued economic well-being of agricultural producers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “While we’re glad to see improvement this year, losses are still too high and there is still much more work to be done to stabilize bee populations.”

“Yearly fluctuations in the rate of losses like these only demonstrate how complicated the whole issue of honey bee heath has become, with factors such as viruses and other pathogens, parasites like varroa mites, problems of nutrition from lack of diversity in pollen sources, and even sublethal effects of pesticides combining to weaken and kill bee colonies,” said Jeff Pettis, co-author of the survey and research leader of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. ARS is USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency.

There is no way to tell why the bees did better this year, according to both Pettis and Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a University of Maryland assistant professor who is the leader of the survey and director of the Bee Informed Partnership. Although the survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland Bee Informed Partnership shows improvement, losses remain above the level that beekeepers consider to be economically sustainable. This year, almost two-thirds of the beekeepers responding reported losses greater than the 18.9 percent threshold.

More than three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators, such as bees, to reproduce, meaning pollinators help produce one out of every three bites of food Americans eat. The winter losses survey covers the period from October 2013 through April 2014. About 7,200 beekeepers responded to the voluntary survey.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also announced today that it will hold a summit this Fall aimed at addressing the nutrition and forage needs of pollinators. The summit will take place in Washington D.C. on October 20-21 and will be attended by a consortium of public, private, and non-governmental organizations. Attendees will discuss the most recent research related to pollinator loss and work to identify solutions.

Also today, USDA launched the People’s Garden Apiary bee cam at the USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. as an additional effort to increase public awareness about the reduction of bee populations and to inform Americans about actions they can take to support the recovery of pollinator populations. The USDA “Bee Watch” website (www.USDA.gov/Beewatch) will broadcast honey bee hive activity live over the Internet 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Created in 2010, the People’s Garden Apiary is home to two beehives. The bees are Italian queens, the most common bee stock and the same used in many honey bee colonies throughout the United States.

In March of 2014, Secretary Vilsack created a Pollinator Working Group, under the leadership of Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, to better coordinate efforts, leverage resources, and increase focus on pollinator issues across USDA agencies. USDA personnel from ten Department agencies (ARS), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Farm Services Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Economic Research Service (ERS), Forest Service (FS), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Risk Management Agency (RMA) and Rural Development (RD) meet regularly to coordinate and evaluate efforts as USDA strives toward improving pollinator health and ensuring our pollinators continuing contributions to our nation’s environment and food security.

Earlier this year, USDA made $3 million available to help agriculture producers in five states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan) provide floral forage habitats to benefit pollinating species on working lands. The Honey Bee Pollinator Effort is intended to encourage farmers and ranchers to grow alfalfa, clover and other flowering habitat for bees and other pollinators.

Recognizing the importance of pollinators on the health of the rural economy and the Nation’s food supply, the President’s FY2015 Budget proposes the creation of 3 new Innovation Institutes including one on Pollination and Pollinator Health (PPH). The budget requests up to $5 million a year over five years to be allocated for research to combat pollinator decline and colony collapse disorder. If established, the PPH will support the activities already identified in the joint USDA-Environmental Protection Agency action plan and build on current pollinator research and extension projects.

A complete analysis of the bee survey data will be published later this year. The summary of the analysis is at http://beeinformed.org/results-categories/winter-loss-2013-2014/.

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