By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent
WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The White House on Tuesday released its long-awaited strategy and research action plan to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators.
The plan is a result of a 2014 presidential memorandum that recognized the increase in pollinator losses in recent years, made the health of honey bees and other pollinators a presidential-level concern, and set up a task force of many federal agencies to develop a government-wide strategy to reduce their losses.
The pollinator strategy comes with three major goals:
1) Reduce honey bee colony losses during winter to no more than 15% within 10 years.
2) Increase the Eastern population of the monarch butterfly to 225 million butterflies occupying an area of approximately 15 acres in the overwintering grounds in Mexico, through domestic/international actions and public/private partnerships, by 2020.
3) Restore or enhance 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years through federal actions and public/private partnerships.
Last week a preliminary report from a group called the Bee Informed Partnership reported winter losses of 23.1% and summer losses of 27.4% for an overall colony loss of 42% during 2014-15. According to the group, total annual losses were 6% higher than 2013-14. The group considers "acceptable" loss levels to be closer to 18%, according to the partnership's website. Bee keepers in several states still reported losses above 60%, including Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, New York and Maine.
The report highlighted fiscal-year 2016 proposed agency spending of $82.5 million to aid pollinators, a proposed increase of nearly $34 million from this year. The lion's share of that spending is in USDA programs with $21 million for the Agricultural Research Service, $31.5 million for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and $18 million related to the Conservation Reserve Program.
USDA will target the use of CRP acres and Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds in states such as Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, areas considered central to honey bee summer forage. USDA and the Department of Interior also will work to improve pollinator forage on national forests and grassland acres. Parks and other federal right-of-ways, such as highways will be used. The report, however, also stated the importance of incorporating private lands, including home gardens and "philanthropically-sponsored acreage."
Regarding pesticides, EPA will focus more review on pesticides and their impact on pollinators. The agency will issue new toxicity guidelines to better protect honey bees. Moreover, EPA will re-evaluate the neonicotinoid group of pesticides, the report said. The agency has already indicated it will not approve new applications for neonics until pollinator risk assessments are complete. EPA is conducting a new risk assessment for neonics that could lead to new regulatory decisions on neonics already in use.
The report also noted, "EPA has been working with the American Seed Trade Association, equipment manufacturers, and pesticide registrants to explore additional mitigation measures, including broader adoption of best management practices, to further reduce the emissions of these pesticide residues during the planting process."
Both the strategy and the research action plan were signed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy.
The report also said that the Interior Department will encourage the use of pollinator-friendly plants in land management programs and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with the governments of Mexico and Canada on a Tri-national Monarch Butterfly Conservation Plan.
John Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, stressed in a blog post Tuesday that the American public can play a role in restoring pollinator habitat and health.
"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," Holdren wrote.
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.
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