Malcolm T. Sanford
Ms. Rebecca Terrell of New American Magazine writes about the Pollinator Health Task Force in a recent post: “One year and $82 million after the Obama administration launched its Pollinator Health Task Force, honey bee colonies are doing great — just as they were one year before the advent of Obama’s costly initiative. In fact, 2014 witnessed a 20-year high in numbers of managed honey-producing colonies, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) .”
Ms. Terrell discusses the gray areas surrounding Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) (“With no dead bees to examine, pathologists remain at a loss.”). Nevertheless she states, “U.S. honey farmers have maintained fairly steady hive totals over the past two decades. Honey-producing colonies numbered 2.77 million in 1994, 2.56 million in 2004, and 2.74 million in 2014. How have they managed it? Quite simply, seasonal die-offs are nothing new, and beekeepers know how to deal with them. They buy new bees.” Other evidence of honey bees doing well, she says, include increased sales in queens and package bees, near doubling of honey prices in the grocery store and pollination fees roughly doubling in the last decade.
Ms. Terrell contends it’s taxpayers who are really getting stung by the initiative. The federal government spent $48 million in 2015 to address pollinator health, as explained on page 14 of the White House’s 58-page treatise, the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. “What good came of the $48 million worth of programs she asks? ‘These efforts have proven insufficient to reverse declines,’ she quotes from the document, adding ‘the authors of which are clearly oblivious to USDA data. Yet in keeping with its characteristic never-let-a-contrived-crisis-go-to-waste approach, the Obama administration upped this year’s funding by more than 70 percent to $82 million. This includes $56 million for the USDA to perform ‘research and associated statistical survey programs. In other words, an additional $56 million swarm of bureaucratic paper pushers on Capitol Hill. Would it be unrealistic to expect that in 2017, the White House is going to report words to the effect that these efforts have proven insufficient to reverse declines?’ ”
This is quite an indictment and deserves scrutiny. A June 29, 2014 Presidential Memorandum mandated the creation of a federal strategy to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators, containing the following tasks:
Section 1. Establishing the Pollinator Health Task Force. There is hereby established the Pollinator Health Task Force (Task Force), to be co-chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to the Co-Chairs, the Task Force shall also include the heads, or their designated representatives, from over 14 different official departments and such executive departments, agencies, and offices as the Co-Chairs may designate.
Many of these departments have now produced specific plans based on this mandate (80 pages). Of major significance are those developed by the two agencies that make up the task force, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Environmental Protection (EPA).
Sec. 2. Mission and Function of the Task Force. Within 180 days of the date of this memorandum, the Task Force shall develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, which shall include explicit goals, milestones, and metrics to measure progress. The Strategy shall include the following components:
(a) Pollinator Research Action Plan. The Strategy shall include an Action Plan to focus Federal efforts on understanding, preventing, and recovering from pollinator losses. The Plan shall be informed by research on relevant topics and include:
(i) studies of the health of managed honey bees and native bees, including longitudinal studies, to determine the relative contributions of, and mitigation strategies for, different stressors leading to species declines and colony collapse disorder, including exposure to pesticides, poor nutrition, parasites and other pests, toxins, loss of habitat and reduced natural forage, pathogens, and unsustainable management practices;
(ii) plans for expanded collection and sharing of data related to pollinator losses, technologies for continuous monitoring of honey bee hive health, and use of public-private partnerships, as appropriate, to provide information on the status and trends of managed hive losses;
(iii) assessments of the status of native pollinators, including the Monarch butterfly and bees, and modeling of native pollinator populations and habitats;
(iv) strategies for developing affordable seed mixes, including native pollinator-friendly plants, for maintenance of honey bees and other pollinators, and guidelines for and evaluations of the effectiveness of using pollinator-friendly seed mixes for restoration and reclamation projects;
(v) identification of existing and new methods and best practices to reduce pollinator exposure to pesticides, and new cost-effective ways to control bee pests and diseases; and
(vi) strategies for targeting resources toward areas of high risk and restoration potential and prioritizing plans for restoration of pollinator habitat, based on those areas that will yield the greatest expected net benefits.
(b) Public Education Plan. The Strategy shall include plans for expanding and coordinating public education programs outlining steps individuals and businesses can take to help address the loss of pollinators. It shall also include recommendations for a coordinated public education campaign aimed at individuals, corporations, small businesses, schools, libraries, and museums to significantly increase public awareness of the importance of pollinators and the steps that can be taken to protect them.
(c) Public-Private Partnerships. The Strategy shall include recommendations for developing public-private partnerships to build on Federal efforts to encourage the protection of pollinators and increase the quality and amount of habitat and forage for pollinators. In developing this part of the Strategy, the Task Force shall consult with external stakeholders, including State, tribal, and local governments, farmers, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations.
(d) Task Force member agencies shall report regularly to the Task Force on their efforts to implement section 3 of this memorandum.
Sec. 3. Increasing and Improving Pollinator Habitat. Unless otherwise specified, within 180 days of the date of this memorandum:
(a) Task Force member agencies shall develop and provide to the Task Force plans to enhance pollinator habitat, and subsequently implement, as appropriate, such plans on their managed lands and facilities, consistent with their missions and public safety.
(a) Task Force member agencies shall develop and provide to the Task Force plans to enhance pollinator habitat, and subsequently implement, as appropriate, such plans on their managed lands and facilities, consistent with their missions and public safety. These plans may include: facility landscaping, including easements; land management; policies with respect to road and other rights-of-way; educational gardens; use of integrated vegetation and pest management; increased native vegetation; and application of pollinator-friendly best management practices and seed mixes. Task Force member agencies shall also review any new or renewing land management contracts and grants for the opportunity to include requirements for enhancing pollinator habitat.
(b) Task Force member agencies shall evaluate permit and management practices on power line, pipeline, utility, and other rights-of-way and easements, and, consistent with applicable law, make any necessary and appropriate changes to enhance pollinator habitat on Federal lands through the use of integrated vegetation and pest management and pollinator-friendly best management practices, and by supplementing existing agreements and memoranda of understanding with rights-of-way holders, where appropriate, to establish and improve pollinator habitat.
(c) Task Force member agencies shall incorporate pollinator health as a component of all future restoration and reclamation projects, as appropriate, including all annual restoration plans.
(d) The Council on Environmental Quality and the General Services Administration shall, within 90 days of the date of this memorandum, revise their respective guidance documents for designed landscapes and public buildings to incorporate, as appropriate, pollinator-friendly practices into site landscape performance requirements to create and maintain high quality habitats for pollinators. Future landscaping projects at all Federal facilities shall, to the maximum extent appropriate, use plants beneficial to pollinators.
(e) The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior shall, within 90 days of the date of this memorandum, develop best management practices for executive departments and agencies to enhance pollinator habitat on Federal lands.
(f) The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior shall establish a reserve of native seed mixes, including pollinator-friendly plants, for use on post-fire rehabilitation projects and other restoration activities.
(g) The Department of Agriculture shall, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, substantially increase both the acreage and forage value of pollinator habitat in the Department’s conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program, and provide technical assistance, through collaboration with the land-grant university-based cooperative extension services, to executive departments and agencies, State, local, and tribal governments, and other entities and individuals, including farmers and ranchers, in planting the most suitable pollinator-friendly habitats.
(h) The Department of the Interior shall assist States and State wildlife organizations, as appropriate, in identifying and implementing projects to conserve pollinators at risk of endangerment and further pollinator conservation through the revision and implementation of individual State Wildlife Action Plans. The Department of the Interior shall, upon request, provide technical support for these efforts, and keep the Task Force apprised of such collaborations.
(i) The Department of Transportation shall evaluate its current guidance for grantees and informational resources to identify opportunities to increase pollinator habitat along roadways and implement improvements, as appropriate. The Department of Transportation shall work with State Departments of Transportation and transportation associations to promote pollinator-friendly practices and corridors. The Department of Transportation shall evaluate opportunities to make railways, pipelines, and transportation facilities that are privately owned and operated aware of the need to increase pollinator habitat.
(j) The Department of Defense shall, consistent with law and the availability of appropriations, support habitat restoration projects for pollinators, and shall direct military service installations to use, when possible, pollinator-friendly native landscaping and minimize use of pesticides harmful to pollinators through integrated vegetation and pest management practices.
(k) The Army Corps of Engineers shall incorporate conservation practices for pollinator habitat improvement on the 12 million acres of lands and waters at resource development projects across the country, as appropriate.
(l) The Environmental Protection Agency shall assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bee and other pollinator health and take action, as appropriate, to protect pollinators; engage State and tribal environmental, agricultural, and wildlife agencies in the development of State and tribal pollinator protection plans; encourage the incorporation of pollinator protection and habitat planting activities into green infrastructure and Superfund projects; and expedite review of registration applications for new products targeting pests harmful to pollinators.
(m) Executive departments and agencies shall, as appropriate, take immediate measures to support pollinators during the 2014 growing season and thereafter. These measures may include planting pollinator-friendly vegetation and increasing flower diversity in plantings, limiting mowing practices, and avoiding the use of pesticides in sensitive pollinator habitats through integrated vegetation and pest management practices.
Sec. 4. General Provisions.
(a) This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations. Here’s the rub; Congress has not appropriated funds as noted on page 14 of the main document listed below. These will have to come from funds re-directed by departments and agencies?
(b) Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to any agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(c) Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to require the disclosure of confidential business information or trade secrets, classified information, law enforcement sensitive information, or other information that must be protected in the interest of national security or public safety.
(d) This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
(e) The Secretary of Agriculture is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.
On May 19, 2015 The White House announced new steps in the pollinator health initiative. The Task Force selected are two agencies, USDA and EPA. The Task Force Strategy (58 pages) including provisions detailed above was unveiled 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 pollinate through combined public and private action.
It was accompanied by the science-based Pollinator Research Action (92 pages), which outlines the 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.
The budgets referenced by Ms. Terrell (page 14 of the Task Force Strategy) are $48.53 million for Fy 2015, climbing to $82.49 million in Fy 2016. The largest recipients in FY 2016 are Agricultural Research Service (ARS) $21.9 million; National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) $31.5 million; Farm Service Agency (FSA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), $18.06 million; Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP),$4 million; and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) $2 million.
NIFA the major recipient of funding requires some explanation. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture essentially replaced The cooperative State Research and Education and Extension Service. It is responsible for coordinating federally funded agricultural research under the Department of s an example, note the Agriculture and will be soliciting and funding grants for the initiative from a wide array of sources. One example is Purdue University entomologist Ian Kaplan and his team, who have received a $3.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture to fund their research into the environmental, ecological and socioeconomic effects of neonicotinoid pesticide use.
On August 10, 2016 a “refresher” was issued on the initiative. It includes nineteen projects that are in full swing, including
1. National, statistical, metrics on honey bee colony numbers have been revamped to include all beekeeping operations , This will provide a robust baseline against which we can apply our expanding research knowledge on causal factors and best practices to mitigate losses;
2. The monarch butterfly migration research showing improvement in 2015-16 due to ideal weather conditions and early on-the-ground habitat efforts. However, an early spring snowstorm in the overwintering forests in Mexico is reminder of the tenuous nature of this situation.
3. Good progress has been made to restore or enhance millions of acres of pollinator habitat. Mostly done via best management practices as noted in a major publication on best management practices (BMPs) Pollinator Friendly BMPs on Federal Lands (44 pages).
On June 22, 2016 the White House released the Pollination Partner Action Plan (PPAP) building on Federal actions to improve pollinator health by facilitating additional state and private-sector engagement. The PPAP furthers President Obama’s original June, 2014, memorandum on the plight of the pollinators. As he made clear, ultimate success can only be achieved through an “all-hands-on-deck approach” to create the necessary long-term change and fully internalize the value of these creatures to our well-being.
The PPAP document shares examples of existing partnership actions (24 pages) as models for future efforts, and encourages ideas for new and creative ways to engage all sectors of society in the long-term protection of pollinators. Again, three major areas are included: Honey Bee Health; Monarch Butterfly Conservation; Pollinator Habitat via Land Conservation, Restoration, and Enhancement.
Clearly this initiative begun by the President is a huge effort in a lot of ways, incorporating several extremely large-scale documents (almost 300 pages in total) and is expected to generate efforts of similar magnitude. The objectives include all pollinating organisms, and is especially strong in terms of habitat management. Ms. Terrell’s indictment focusing on it as a boondoggle for beekeepers and honey bees is too narrow given the scope of the proposed effort.
Beyond Ms. Terrell, others are not happy with the initiative. Here’s the Center for Food Safety’s top five takeaways from this long-awaited announcement.
1) They can talk the talk, but can they walk the walk?
The White House Task Force (WHTF) announced a number of good ideas, but the plan lacks definitive actions. Its “strategy plan” is largely a plan for communications, outreach, and research—it has very few concrete steps aimed at protecting pollinators in the short-term, especially from the unique risks of systemic, highly persistent insecticides like neonicotinoids. Some of their ambitious goals include:
· Reducing honey bee colony losses during winter to no more than 15 percent within 10 years
· Increasing the monarch butterfly population to 225 million butterflies in the overwintering grounds in Mexico by 2020
· Restoring or enhancing 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years
In theory, this all sounds great (who wouldn’t want reduced honey bee losses and greater monarch numbers?), but we can’t achieve these goals without taking strong action now on pesticides. The next few points explain why.
2) Habitat, habitat, and more habitat
The plan focuses heavily on creating pollinator habitat, but ignores the strong potential for contamination of those areas with bee-toxic pesticides. Government agencies and private corporations can’t just plant more wildflowers and expect pesticides that last for years in soil to simply stop being a problem. For example, the best management practices (44 pages) for creating habitat on federal lands weakly encourage officials to “try to keep portions of pollinator habitat free of pesticide use.” But unless you get rid of pesticides altogether, this simply is not possible.
3) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally admits that neonicotinoids pose unique hazards to bees, but that doesn’t mean they’ll take action. In the plan, the EPA states, “This pesticide class is differentiated by its unique hazard database for bees, its disposition in the environment, and frequent association with adverse effects incidents, in the United States and elsewhere.” Finally, EPA has come around to what independent, peer-reviewed science has been highlighting for years—and, unfortunately, recognizing these unique risks did not translate into specific, immediate actions to address them. Overall, the WHTF failed to take into account the full weight of scientific evidence indicating that neonicotinoids and other systemic insecticides seriously threaten pollinators and other invertebrates, as well as the broader ecosystems that depend upon them. The plan also ignored extensive new independent science that has demonstrated clear chronic effects on bumblebees, other native bees, and honey bees.
4) Better practices will save the bees. The WHTF relies heavily on the voluntary implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce adverse impacts of pesticides to pollinators. These mostly revolve around using pesticides “more judiciously,” but there’s a serious problem with that. First and foremost, there is no such thing as “judicious use” of neonicotinoids because their primary use is as a seed coating on commodity crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat. Whole fields are planted with every single seed covered in a neonicotinoid. When it comes down to it, the entire function of a seed coating is to deliver the pesticide to the plant, whether it’s needed or not—there’s nothing judicious about it.
5) Monarchs matter, but not enough to warrant federal protection.
The WHTF plan certainly recognizes the serious threats currently facing monarch butterflies, and specifically highlights the destructive effects of glyphosate-based weedkillers on the milkweed plants essential to the species’s survival. But once again, the plan focuses the majority of its attention on habitat restoration efforts. Sure, improving milkweed habitat will help monarchs, but it really won’t make much of a difference in the end if lawmakers don’t also deal with the agricultural practices responsible for the eradication of milkweed in the first place. Listing monarch butterflies as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the most effective way to ensure their populations rebound to resilient, healthy levels.
Many of the above complaints are valid points. However, those concerning pesticides are being reviewed by the EPA and figure prominently in the Research Action Plan.
A major effort to look at reactions to the Strategy from the viewpoint of various organizations and potential contributors was published on November 20, 2016. It offered a range of samples from the Strategy’s Action Plan and opinions that were generated from Bayer Crop Science, the Xerxes Society, Honey Bee Health Coalition, EPA, Washington Post among others. Notably, it includes some strong critics of the status quo who are sounding hopeful – and watchful. One wag askd the question, “Is it smoke and mirrors or bountiful possibility?
Meanwhile, the White House Pollinator Health Task Force is going forward full speed ahead with its activities. The initiative is simply too big an effort (four major publications with over 300 pages) and two years in the making to tell how much effect it will actually have on honey bees, beekeepers, regulators and the general public.
It will be up to the public and others interested in the results of this initiative to be invested in the measuring of its success as noted on page 13 of the Strategy:
“To achieve these target outcomes, each relevant action undertaken by a Federal agency will also include a timeline and metrics for evaluating the success and progress toward achieving one or more of these target outcomes. As the science developed through the Pollinator Research Action Plan (2015) matures, adjustments and/or enhancements to Federal actions and overarching goals and target outcomes also may be warranted. With expanding implementation of the Strategy, and as partnership efforts continue to grow, additional metrics and measures will be added to aid in assessing the success of the Strategy.
“Periodic follow-up and reporting of agency performance is also vital in demonstrating to the public the Federal government’s commitment to reversing pollinator declines and improving pollinator health. To this end, Task Force agencies are to report annually on all metrics to the Task Force Co-Chairs, who will publicly disseminate the results on an annual basis so that the general public can monitor the progress each agency is making in fulfilling the commitments detailed in this Strategy, including collaboration with public and private stakeholders.” A beginning is the “refresher” mentioned above from the USDA.
An overriding concern will be whether funding is secured in the Fy 2017 budget to continue this important work. Given that a new President will take office in the near future, those interested in the health of the initiative itself should be making plans to do their utmost to support it in the future.
Again, it is important to understand that the budgeted funds on page 14 of the main document noted above have already been appropriated by Congress. The agencies involved and are simply being redirected by the President toward the goals of the pollinator initiative’s strategic plan. Looking at the numbers in the task force document as new money being appropriated strictly for the pollinator initiative is incorrect. Only Congress can appropriate funding not the President himself. This leaves us with the fact that almost any project from the agencies listed in the task force document on pesticides, butterflies, honey bees, other pollinators, planting seeds and other agricultural activities etc. might be attributed to the President’s initiative.
Ms. Terrell’s conclusion continues to be way off base when she says, ”despite all the buzz over a supposed ‘beepocalypse,’ the real tragedy is rampant, unconstitutional government waste on an issue that should be left for beekeepers and the free market to handle on their own. Somebody needs to tell the feds that it’s none of their darned beeswax.” As one wag put it, “From my y reading, the author of that article is neither a beekeeper nor a farmer reliant on pollinators.”
Again, publications making up major parts of the Pollinator Task Force strategy include:
Main document: National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators (58 pages)
Research Action Plan backing up the main Document (95 pages)
Habitat Restoration Best Management Practices on Federal Lands (44 pages)
Pollination Partner Action Plan (PAPP) to bring the general public into the initiative (24 pages)
Appendages of the Strategy showing departmental-specific Plans (80 pages)