What can we do to save the bees? (Smithsonian.com)
What can we do to save the bees?
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The federal government hopes to reverse America's declining honeybee and monarch butterfly populations. It wants to make more federal land bee-friendly, spending more money on research and considering the use of less pesticides.

Bees are crucial to pollinate many crops. Scientists say bees have been hurt by a combination of declining nutrition, mites, disease and pesticides. The federal plan is an "all hands on deck" strategy. It calls on everyone from federal bureaucrats to citizens to do what they can to save bees. The insects provide more than $15 billion in value to the U.S. economy. That is according to White House science adviser John Holdren.

"Pollinators are struggling," Holdren said in a blog post. He cited a new federal survey. It found beekeepers lost more than 40 percent of their colonies last year. They later recovered by dividing surviving hives. He also said the number of monarch butterflies that spend the winter in Mexico's forests is down by 90 percent or more over the past two decades. The U.S. government is working with Mexico to expand monarch habitats in the southern part of that country.

The plan calls for restoring 7 million acres of bee habitat in the next five years. Numerous federal agencies will have to find ways to grow plants on federal lands that are more varied and better for bees to eat. That is because scientists have worried that large land tracts that grow only one crop have hurt bee nutrition.

The plan is not just for the Department of Interior, which has vast areas of land under its control. Agencies that wouldn't normally be thought of, such as Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation, will have to include bee-friendly landscaping on their properties and in grant-making.

That part of the bee plan got praise from scientists who study bees.

"Here, we can do a lot for bees and other pollinators," said University of Maryland entomology professor Dennis vanEnglesdorp. He led the federal bee study that found last year's large loss. "This I think is something to get excited and hopeful about. There is really only one hope for bees and it's to make sure they spend a good part of the year in safe healthy environments. The apparent scarcity of these areas is what's worrying. This could change that."

University of Montana bee expert Jerry Bromenshenk said the effort shows the federal government finally recognizes that land use is key with bees.

"From my perspective, it's a wake-up call," Bromenshenk wrote in an email. "Pollinators need safe havens, with adequate quantities of high-quality resources for food and habitat, relatively free from toxic chemicals. And that includes pollutants as well as pesticides and other agricultural chemicals."

The administration proposes spending $82.5 million on honeybee research in the upcoming budget year. That is up $34 million from now.

The Environmental Protection Agency will step up studies into the safety of widely used neonicotinoid pesticides. Those have been temporarily banned in Europe. It will not approve new types of uses of the pesticides until more study is done, if then, the report said.

"They are not taking bold enough action. There's a recognition that there is a crisis," said Lori Ann Burd. She is environmental health director for the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity. She said the bees cannot wait. She compared more studies on neonicotinoids to going to a second and third mechanic when you've been told the brakes are shot.

The report talks of a fine line between the need for pesticides to help agriculture and the harm they can do to bees and other pollinators.

Lessening "the effects of pesticides on bees is a priority for the federal government," the report said. Both bee pollination and insect control are essential to the success of agriculture," it said.

Critical thinking challenge: How could federal departments such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation have an impact on bees?

Assigned 25 times


COMMENTS (23)
  • coled-fel
    8/12/2015 - 02:15 p.m.

    CTC: The gas used to transport or make cars, buses, trains, etc. could harm the survival rate for all bees in the surrounding area.

  • kolbyd-fel
    8/12/2015 - 02:16 p.m.

    they could help bring the population and habits back up

  • ethanw-fel
    8/12/2015 - 02:17 p.m.

    the federal departments could make a whole lot more safe enviroments for the bees and that could save the bees.

  • garretta-fel
    8/12/2015 - 02:17 p.m.

    CTC: The two departments could help bee population and boost its production for our economy by saving parts of land to help bees get the nutrition they deserve.

  • lances-fel
    8/12/2015 - 02:17 p.m.

    The federal departments can have have an impact on the bees because when they are using housing they are destroying habbits and other uses to help the bees survive.

  • audreya-fel
    8/12/2015 - 02:18 p.m.

    How federal departments could have an impact on honeybees by using less pesticides and more plants that aren't sick or diseased.

  • mattv-fel
    8/12/2015 - 02:18 p.m.

    They could possibly help the bees by planting certain flowers and trees. This would help the bees to grow their hives and grow the other plants around us. It's a win-win for both the bees and humans.

  • hannaha-fel
    8/12/2015 - 02:18 p.m.

    The two departments can have an impact on bees by planting more pollinated plants around other areas. Also reducing the use of pesticides.

  • mimir-fel
    8/12/2015 - 02:20 p.m.

    They could help fund and sponsor bees for the many acres planned to be set aside for bees.

  • elizabetht-fel
    8/12/2015 - 02:20 p.m.

    The department of housing, urban development, and transportation may help by being able to do a numerous amount of things to save the bees. Such as if the Department of Housing, they could make a safe havens for bees to locate themselves to, so that the bee population may not deplete as quickly. The department of Urban Development could ban pesticide from public use that could be potentially harmful to bees. The Department of Transportation could try and use an alternative source of power for their vehicles. These are a few of the things that they can do to help.

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