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Being Serious about Saving Bees

Posted by Dr. Ann Bartuska, Acting Chief Scientist and Acting Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics in Animals Research and Science
Jun 28, 2019
Secretary Perdue and Karen Pence unveil a honey bee hive at the Vice President’s residence
Secretary Perdue and Karen Pence unveil a honey bee hive at the Vice President’s residence. Steps like this, combined with research, are vital to pollinator health.

Pollinators are a vital part of agricultural production. In the United States, more than one-third of all crop production – 90 crops ranging from nuts to berries to flowering vegetables - requires insect pollination. Managed honey bee colonies are our primary pollinators, adding at least $15 billion a year by increasing yields and helping to ensure superior-quality harvests.

However, our beekeepers have been steadily losing colonies. The number of honey bee hives in this country has decreased from 6 million in the 1940s to about 2.5 million today.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue declared June 19-25 as “National Pollinator Week” to help call attention to these losses, which are caused primarily by biological and environmental stressors. Confronting this diverse mix of challenges requires a mix of solutions, and the odds are that we won’t find one magic fix to help our honey bees.

On June 6, Secretary Perdue joined Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, to announce the installation of a honey bee hive on the grounds of the Vice President’s residence in Washington (watch video). They encouraged Americans to also consider setting up hives where possible, or at least to plant bee-friendly flowers and flowering herbs in their gardens and yards.

While these are helpful steps that people can take in their own communities, there is also a need for research to better understand this problem and how we can best address it. USDA was one of the co-leaders of a task force that developed a national strategy that laid out a research and management roadmap that we are busily implementing.

Our Agricultural Research Service is conducting research to improve the nutritional health of bees, to control the Varroa mite and other pests and pathogens, and to understand the effects of pesticides on colonies. We are setting up long-term studies to determine causes and evaluate treatments for Colony Collapse Disorder and other kinds of bee mortality, and we are establishing a bee gene bank to help breed traits such as resistance to pests or diseases and pollination efficiency.

Our National Institute for Food and Agriculture is funding important research at our land-grant universities in this area. For example, University of Nevada researchers have are experimenting with a virus that attacks a bacterial disease that affects honey bees. Meanwhile, Michigan State University scientists are developing sustainable pollination strategies such as enhancing the effect of bee-friendly wildflowers.

Our National Agricultural Statistics Service, working with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have begun taking a nationwide survey of bee health that sets baseline values for pest and disease prevalence. The U.S. Forest Service and the Farm Service Agency has been creating and restoring hundreds of thousands of acres of pollinator habitat, while the Natural Resources Conservation Service has provided financial assistance to landowners to protect or restore 30,000 acres of private lands.

Honey bees may be some of the hardest workers you’ll ever see, but they need our help. At USDA, we are making sure that they get it.

Category/Topic: Animals Research and Science

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Comments

Sky Twilighten
Jun 20, 2017

We should be able to implement a program that involves more awareness of this issue. Therefore, it would increase awareness and participation. I myself, am in the process of doing just that; becoming a participant just from watching the movie "Migration of the Butterfly"

Roberto
Jun 21, 2017

Does the USDA team up with DOD to allow beekeepers to install hives on DOD installations?

Henry
Jul 06, 2017

Keeping bees in your own backyard is one of the best ways to help our pollinators. A sustainable beekeeping company is the way to go. One, called Beepods, even collects data from the hives it sells to help research Colony Collapse Disorder!

Jacquie Williams
Aug 02, 2017

It's all very well unveiling bee hives, but until farmers stop spraying with glyphosate, bees will just keep dying.

Marietta
Aug 22, 2017

I think Bees are one of the most important resources we have, without them we could not thrive vegetative wise. I don't think. Love Bees in their rightful place.

Patricia Martinez
Dec 03, 2017

Are honey bees protected? I live in a rural neighborhood which had a honey bee hive in one of our neighbor's trees. Some of the neighborhood children are highly allergic to bees so she (our neighbor) has been working with the city to get someone to safely relocate the hive. This has been going on for about two months without much success. Sadly tonight, on a dare, a drunken neighborhood man knocked a large portion of the hive from the tree, leaving the drones and honeycomb on the ground. Our city police and fire have no suggestions how to handle the downed bees and honeycomb and I fear that other persons may decide to knock the rest of the hive down. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. Patti Martinez, Placentia, Orange County, California.

Ben Weaver
Dec 04, 2017

@Patricia Martinez - The short answer to your question is that honey bees are not protected. You may be able to obtain assistance from a local beekeeping club to capture the colony in a hive box to save it.  Please contact the California Beekeepers Association’s contact listed for Orange County. You can find that contact here: www.californiastatebeekeepers.com/affiliated-clubs. You can also contact the California Department of Food and Agriculture State Apiary Board for possible assistance. Reach out to Courtney Albrecht, Specialist, California Department of Food and Agriculture, California State Apiary Board in Sacramento: courtney.albrecht@cdfa.ca.gov. The State Apiary Board website is here: www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/pollinators/apiaryboard.html.

Dean Kuhlka
Jan 06, 2018

I am a small sideliner beekeeper in Northfield Ma. At the present time I have 14 hives . I am looking to expand. I do have a big concern with this very cold weather I might loss all my hives. If this happens it will really set me back. Could you let me know if there are any corporations or departments with in the USDA that is willing to support the building of a medium size apiary? This would be a dream come true.
Thank you for your time
Dean Kuhlka

Bob Smith
Mar 21, 2018

I feel sorry for the poor bees they are mainly affected by global warming. Another thing I am sorry for is how some people are so selfish that all they do is spent the country's money on weapons that have no effect on other countries. Come on people why weapons and not stuff that makes good, like better scientific research that can help save the population of the bees and other animals. If a magical genie popped out of a teapot thing and gave me 3 wishes, I would wish for world peace, a better leader, and my last wish would be for the bees, I would make it so people would, well farmers would use a more bee-friendly, and or nothing at all to "help protect the crops."

Jacklyn Barefoot
Aug 29, 2018

I am looking to plant 40 acres of Wild flowers to help restore the bee population.

Penny
Oct 10, 2018

New to beekeeping we rehomed into a hive boxe with the help of a professional beekeeper (who is also a halo-flight paramedic) an Africanized hive on my very remote South Texas ranch. One hive down and 4 to go. It was an experience of a lifetime and not for the faint of heart. And yes you can get stung through a bee suit. I have to say the honey from Mesquite and Guajillo trees around is the most amazing honey ever.

INGER JONES
Jun 21, 2019

Important that we have such dedicated scientist working on our behalf. As a Master Garderner we know the importance to help our bees to eliminating pesticides. Our county will soon be banning the use of Round Up.

Molly Rehkemper
Jul 09, 2019

I live in a small town by the Chesapeake Bay. My yard is planted to support insect and small animal. I would like to plant more shrubs and plants to support honey bees. Can you advise me on what to plant? I would love to have a small colony in my back yard. The back yard has a ravine with trees and bamboo completely wild. I am Handicapped so can not tend to a hive. Thank You Molly Rehkemper

Ben Weaver
Jul 11, 2019

@Molly Rehkemper - thank you for your comment. We recommend three excellent sources for information on plantings to support pollinators. The first is USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Plants for Pollinators recommendations. Here you can find a link to many useful resources, including the PLANTS Pollinator Database, which houses regional- and state-specific guidance on plantings for pollinators, e.g., this Pennsylvania guide on pollinator-attractive shrubs and trees (PDF, 112 KB). Second, since you are in the Chesapeake Watershed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Planning in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (PDF, 5.3 MB) has an exhaustive list of plantings that are appropriate for your area, and includes information on appropriate plant habitat, necessary planting conditions, and plant characteristics. Although it is not pollinator specific, many of the plant species that are recognized as being attractive to butterflies will provide beneficial forage for honey bees. Finally, we highly recommend that you reach out to your local Cooperative Extension for additional support. As it appears that you are located in Maryland, you have access to the University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center, which have Certified Professional Horticulturalists on staff that can help provide further guidance and answer any questions you may have.

Bonnie Lee Darnell
Aug 10, 2019

30K of acres is a very, very small amount ... to me, that could be INE or two landowners! I would like to see federal and states working to ensure fed and state owned lands are teeming with pollinators vitally needed flowers, clover, etc.

TC Meinzen
Aug 27, 2019

It is important to remember that honeybees are a European species introduced to North America and have been shown by scientists to outcompete native pollinators and actually reduce seed yield in native plants. Simply placing more honeybee hives and support the commercial beekeeping industry will not solve the pollinator crisis, and in fact harms the over 4,000 species of native bees in North America. Let's not focus our efforts solely on aiding an invasive species, but rather on providing habitat for the diversity of native pollinators that call this country home.

Planting pollinator-friendly plants, protecting wild habitats, and speaking out against honeybee introductions in areas of important pollinator diversity (like our National Forests) are important steps to take—NOT simply pasturing more honeybees, which, as a managed species, are not in danger of extinction.

Tony
Sep 19, 2019

My brother. Mother, uncle and I have roughly 30 hives. Currently we are on a family owned farm plot of 160 acres that already is in crp program. With the owner of property ( my grandmother) health fading at age 90. The property is to be broken up and willed to my aunt's and uncles and mother. I am a disabled individual and on ssdi. And am currently looking for grants to pur hase the broken up chunks of property from my aunt's and uncles to be able to keep in crp program and expand our honey and bee business. What grants are available in minnesota to help me and my fellow family bee keepers to purchase the land chunks and keep them as crp and native plants and flowers instead of being sold off for housing Dr elopement. Thanks in advance

Ben Weaver
Sep 20, 2019

@Tony - thank you for your comment. We recommend contacting your local USDA Service Center to find out what current options may be available through the Conservation Reserve Program. Additionally, FSA and NRCS offer additional programs that may work well for your land, such as farm loans (for financing) and conservation easements. You can find your nearest office here: www.farmers.gov/service-locator.

Maurizio Locatelli
Oct 08, 2019

Please bring the beekeeping program for Veterans to Hawaii. God Knows that this aspect of farming for veterans and the state is a blessing - considering bees are therapeutic to humanity along with the pollination benefits to the agricultural business and the backyard gardener.
Being a beekeeper is calming, rewarding in every imaginable aspect. Please, bring the beekeeping program to Hawaii to help veterans and the local population.