With two bee-centric bills moving through Congress this fall, it seems that lawmakers are as worried about the decline of the country's honeybees as beekeepers are themselves. Introduced in June, the Pollinator Research Act would fund research on crop pollination and bee biology, while the Pollinator Protection Act—part of the revised Farm Bill—would allow farmers who create bee-friendly habitats on their property to apply for funding, thus conserving current pollinator populations. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the acts by November.
"For decades, we've relied on one species—European honeybees—for most of our pollination, which is pretty shortsighted," says Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, an Oregon-based organization dedicated to invertebrate and insect conservation. But we have 4,000 species of native bees, and many have been shown to be great pollinators if you give them the habitat.
The ailing beekeeping industry, which depends heavily on captive European honeybees, has been hit hard by colony collapse disorder, in which bees become inactive and abandon the hive. Scientists still don't have a clear understanding of what's caused the collapse, but given that about one-third of our food comes from insect pollination, it poses a unique, real risk to U.S. agriculture.
"Whether bees have been weakened by mites and disease, pesticides, or stress, something is pushing them over the edge," says Black, who also notes that consumers likely won't see prices rise on honey or produce unless colonies continue to decline in coming years. The bills are exciting because if we include pollinators in the [political] mix, it can really impact agriculture and species survival. Stay up on pollinator issues and news at www.xerces.org or www.pollinator.org.