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New Steps to Promote Pollinator Health

Government goals are to reduce honey bee colony losses, increase monarch butterfly numbers, and restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators.
A honey bee, with pollen attached to its hind leg, pollinating a watermelon flower. (Photo by Stephen Ausmus/USDA)

Pollinators are critical to the Nation’s economy, food security, and environmental health. Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year, and helps ensure that our diets include ample fruits, nuts, and vegetables. This tremendously valuable service is provided to society by honey bees, native bees and other insect pollinators, birds, and bats.

But pollinators are struggling. Last year, beekeepers reported losing about 40% of honey bee colonies, threatening the viability of their livelihoods and the essential pollination services their bees provide to agriculture. Monarch butterflies, too, are in jeopardy. The number of overwintering Monarchs in Mexico’s forests has declined by 90% or more over the past two decades, placing the iconic annual North American Monarch migration at risk. 

That’s why last June, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing an interagency Task Force to create a Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. Today, under the leadership of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Task Force is releasing its Strategy, with three overarching goals:

  1. Reduce honey bee colony losses to economically sustainable levels;
  2. Increase monarch butterfly numbers to protect the annual migration; and
  3. Restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators through combined public and private action.

The Strategy released today and its accompanying science-based Pollinator Research Action Plan outline needs and priority actions to better understand pollinator losses and improve pollinator health. These actions will be supported by coordination of existing Federal research efforts and accompanied by a request to Congress for additional resources to respond to the pollinator losses that are being experienced.

Increasing the quantity and quality of habitat for pollinators is a major part of this effort—with actions ranging from the construction of pollinator gardens at Federal buildings to the restoration of millions of acres of Federally managed lands and similar actions on private lands. To support these habitat-focused efforts, USDA and the Department of Interior are today issuing a set of Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices for Federal Lands, providing  practical guidance for planners and managers with land stewardship responsibilities. 

The President has emphasized the need for an “all hands on deck” approach to promoting pollinator health, including engagement of citizens and communities and the forging of public-private partnerships. To foster collaboration, the interagency Pollinator Health Task Force will work toward developing a Partnership Action Plan that guides coordination with the many state, local, industry, and citizen groups with interests in and capacities to help tackle the challenge facing pollinators.

People of all ages and communities across the country can play a role in responding to the President’s call to action. YOU can share some land with pollinators—bees, butterflies, other insects, birds, bats—by planting a pollinator garden or setting aside some natural habitat. YOU can think carefully before applying any pesticides and always follow the label instructions. YOU can find out more about the pollinator species that live near you.

Today’s announcement marks an important step toward promoting the health of pollinators that are critically important to our economy, environment, and health.

  • Read the National Strategy to Promote Pollinator Health HERE
  • Read the Pollinator Research Action Plan HERE
  • Read Pollinator-Friendly Best Management Practices for Federal Lands HERE
  • Access Appendices to the National Strategy HERE

Dr. John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science & Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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