U.S. Plan to Help Bees Focuses on More Land

The White House will wait to issue rules on pesticides on bee colonies until the EPA's studies are concluded.

The U.S. government will make federal lands more friendly to bees, monarch butterflies and other pollinators, according to a White House action plan to take action to help bees, released today.

Stopping short of outright banning pesticides harmful or deadly to bees, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a more wait-and-see attitude until results of a flurry of still-incomplete studies' results are in.

"EPA recognizes that both bees and insect control are essential to the success of agriculture. While these two issues might seem inherently at odds, since insecticides are often toxic to bees, EPA is working to optimize bee health and insect control by reducing bees' exposure to pesticides without losing the ability to control pests in agriculture," said the agency in a detailed report about its plans.

The government's action plan follows a report last week from the Bee Informed Partnership that over the past 12 months, 42.1 percent of bee colonies in the United States were lost, the second-highest annual loss ever recorded.

Monarch butterflies are also in trouble, with a 90 percent drop in the number of monarchs that spend the winter in Mexico's forests over the past 20 years.

"Pollinators are critical to our nation's economy, food security and environmental health," said John P. Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, in a statement.

"Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year and provides the backbone to ensuring our diets are plentiful with fruits, nuts and vegetables. Through the actions discussed in this strategy, and by working with partners across our country, we can and will help restore and sustain pollinator health nationwide."

The action plan involves planting millions of acres of federally owned lands with plants that are friendlier to pollinators -- 7 million acres in the next five years, Holdren said. That includes urban parks, roofs and and green spaces alongside train tracks and airports.

Some are criticizing the moves as not enough.

"President Obama's National Pollinator Health Strategy does not go far enough to address the unsustainable losses of bees and other pollinators essential to our food system," said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth. "Failure to address this growing crisis with a unified and meaningful federal plan will put these essential pollinators and our food supply in jeopardy."

Seven-Point Plan The EPA listed a seven-pronged approach to protect pollinators:

1) best available science to support protective decisions;

2) chemical-specific regulatory decisions that explicitly consider pollinator impacts in EPA's pesticide reevaluation and registration programs;

3) risk management that creates space between pesticides that are acutely toxic and bees;

4) expedited review of new Varroa mite control products;

5) incorporation of measures to encourage and enhance pollinator habitat at facilities and EPA-funded green infrastructure and Superfund remediation projects;

6) develop pollinator friendly landscapes at EPA-owned facilities, and 7) evaluation and mitigation of pesticide impacts on monarch butterflies.

Addressing the use of neonicotinoids -- toxic pesticides that are dusted on seeds before planting -- the EPA said it would not approve new requests by companies to use neonics until it has completed its pollinator risk assessments.

The EPA laid out its schedule for those assessments: this year, it will evaluate the risk to bees of imidacloprid, which is thought to be a less-dangerous chemical in neonics.

In 2016, the EPA will start to evaluate clothianidin, dinotefuran and thiamethoxam, the most toxic chemicals found in neonics. The next year, in 2017, it will finish that assessment.

In perhaps the strongest stance against using strong pesticides around bees, the EPS said it would "soon" release for public comment a move to forbid applying "toxic products" to sites while flowers that bees feed on are in bloom.

A honeybee pollinates a squash blossom.

If you're looking to help the bees in your hood, consider adding some native flowering plants to your garden. "Think of the flowers your grandmother used in her garden as a practical guide, especially when using nonnative plants," advises a USDA report. "The pollinators will thank you." Looking for some ideas? Check out these flowering plants that can help give bees a boost.

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Crocus are a good choice to attract bees in the early spring. They're also pollinated by butterflies.

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Asters are perennials that provide nectar and pollen, and do well when planted in late summer and fall.

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Geraniums are another pollinator-friendly perennial.

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The Calendula is an annual that's sometimes called a pot marigold.

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Cleome are annuals that are native to the western United States, and they provide pollen in summer to bees.

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Bees loves sunflowers and sometimes even stop on them to catch a few zzzzs.

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Cut flowers, including zinnia (above), celosia, ageratum and wildflowers like goldenrod are bumble bee magnets. So are herbs including lavendar, anise hyssop, motherwort, basil and sage. Want to see more flowers -- and herbs to help bees? Check out this

cool illustration

from American Bee Journal.