Notes on Recent Pollinator Health Initiatives

​Indiana is working on a state pollinator protection plan, which is being spearheaded by the Office of the Indiana State Chemist with input from various stakeholders, including growers, farm chemical company representatives and beekeepers. A large part of the plan will involve protecting bees from pesticides. This plan is part of a national movement initiated by the president last year. A “national strategy to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators” was released on May 19 by the newly established Pollinator Health Task Force.

The national plan offers an assessment of the decline of honey bees, wild bees and monarch butterflies. The decline in honey bees coincided with the introduction of parasitic mites but other factors including pesticides play a role. Last year the nation lost 40% of its hives. Beekeepers had to scramble to make new hives to pollinate the nation’s crops. The annual loss has been about 30% for the past ten to twenty years. There are over 4,000 species of native bees in addition to honey bees in North America. Honey bees were introduced by the colonists. It is assumed that policies that improve the health of honey bees will also benefit native species but there are some initiatives aimed at native bees. The plan recognizes that the monarch butterfly is only a minor pollinator but that it is a major indicator of ecosystem health. For example, the area covered by overwintering monarchs in Mexico has decreased by about 90% in the last twenty years.

There are three main objectives: (1) returning honey bee colony health to acceptable levels (approximately 15% overwintering loss, a level from which beekeepers are capable of successfully dividing surviving healthy colonies to remain economically viable); (2) increasing monarch butterfly populations to historic averages to ensure successful continuation of annual migrations; and (3) increasing and maintaining cumulative pollinator habitat acreage in critical regions of the country.

Most new funding will be funneled to research on causes and cures for pollinator declines, which will be about $29 million in 2016. This will be a great boon to those who are studying factors influencing bee losses, or those interesting in surveying existing bee and butterfly populations in various habitats, or looking at the value of habitats and other practices as benefits to pollinator populations. The stated goal for objective 3 is to restore or establish 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next 5 years. There will be some funds for habitat restoration but most of this should be accomplished through changes in policies for federal and state lands, and reallocation of existing funds. There will be opportunities to enhance pollinator habitat in private lands in the conservation reserve program, or CRP. The plan proposes better coordination involving many federal agencies and state agencies to help make this happen. For example, the federal wildlife service will partner with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to include monarch butterfly and pollinators in their State Wildlife Action Plans. This will allow states to use a portion of their state wildlife grant funds for pollinator conservation.

Another major area discussed in the plan is pollinator public education and outreach. Federal agencies will be encouraged to develop educational websites and the public will be engaged through initiatives such as National Pollinator Week, which is the third week in June. The National Park Service, the DOE and USDA will play important roles in designing educational materials and events. All in all, this plan looks like great news for pollinators, for our food supply and for the health of our environment.

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