Obama’s Task Force Misses Deadline: Is it Too Late to Save the Bees?

In a recent letter to the White House, CEOs of leading environmental groups urged President Obama to take strong and swift action against insecticides that are devastating honey bee and wild bee populations, threatening the nation’s food supplies.

These insecticides, called “neonics” or “neonicotinoids” are particularly lethal to bees, because “they poison the whole treated plant including the nectar and pollen that bees eat, and they are persistent, lasting months or even years in the plant, soil, and waterways.” What happens next to the bee is devastating, as illustrated by beekeeper James Doan. “The pesticide blocks the nerve endings of the bee, and so the bee is paralyzed and then what happens is they starve to death, so you see the bee shaking, and it’s a very horrific way of dying for a bee.”

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the agencies responsible for the letter, warns that “the crisis in bee deaths represents a potential crisis of food security – our ability to grow our own food will be threatened if bee declines continue at the current rate. Out of some 100 crop species responsible for providing 90% of the world’s food supply, 71 are dependent on bee pollination. The estimated annual value of crops dependent on honey bee pollination is $15 billion in the United States alone, with another $9 billion from pollination by other species. In addition to fruit, vegetable, and seed crops that are pollinated by bees, bee-pollinated forage and hay crops, such as alfalfa and clover, also are used to feed the animals that supply meat and dairy products.”

Bee on Basil Mel Peffers
Bee on Basil Flower (Mel Peffers)

According to the White House, “The number of managed U.S. honey bee colonies dropped from 6 million colonies in 1947, to 4 million in 1970, 3 million in 1990, and just 2.5 million today” (June 2014).  At their current annual disappearing rate of 30 percent, bees could be completely wiped out in a few years.

A good start, but no finish line in sight

In June of last year, President Obama issued a memorandum directing the EPA and the USDA to co-chair a new Pollinator Health Task Force (PHTF) to develop a strategy to save the bees. In addition to the EPA and the USDA, the PHTF included representatives from a broad array of federal agencies from the U.S. Departments of State, Defense, Transportation and Energy, to the National Science Foundation to the National Security Counsel, as well as the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The PHTF doesn’t seem capable of taking swift action. It missed a December 2014 deadline to come up with a plan, and it has now indicated its report may not arrive

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