We need to be busy like bees to help save them

The Modesto Bee – modbee.com

Posted on Thu, Jun. 05, 2008

By Senator Barbara Boxer

Most people don’t spend much time thinking about bees.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, between 15 percent and 30 percent of the food we eat in the United States depends on honeybees for pollination.

Without bees, avocados, strawberries and almonds are just a few of the California crops that would suffer. Not only would yields be reduced, but so would the jobs that go with them.

The idea of a world without bees sounds farfetched, but the truth is that honeybees and other native pollinators — like bumblebees, butterflies, even bats — are in danger.

Last August, I visited an almond orchard in Merced County to meet with local farmers and beekeepers and learn more about the sudden decline in the honeybee population and its impact on our agricultural communities. Since 2006, an estimated 25 percent of the nation’s honeybees have mysteriously disappeared as a result of what the USDA calls “colony collapse disorder.”

The sudden loss of entire hives is only the latest sign of trouble in a decades-long decline. In fact, the nationwide honeybee population is estimated to have dropped from 4.5 million managed colonies in 1980 to 2.4 million in 2005.

California is uniquely threatened by this decline because healthy honeybees play a critical role in our state’s $42 billion a year agricultural economy.

For example, in 2007 California produced an estimated 1.31 billion pounds of almonds — a yield that would not have been possible without honeybees. And while sufficient bees were available to ensure a successful almond crop this year, we need urgent action to prevent further declines. It is estimated that it will take every existing colony in the United States to pollinate the projected almond crop in 2012.

But scientists still don’t conclusively know what causes colony collapse disorder. Some scientists think it might be a combination of environmental stresses on the honeybee population that causes colony collapse.
The first step to reversing the trend is adequately funding the scientific research necessary to better understand these complex natural systems.

During my visit to Merced, I announced the introduction of the Pollinator Protection Act — legislation designed to make funding available for just this kind of research. Later, I succeeded in getting this proposal included in the farm bill. And when Congress voted overwhelmingly to override the president’s veto of the farm bill, that measure became law.

The measure authorizes $100 million over five years for high-priority research dedicated to maintaining and protecting honeybees and native pollinators, effectively doubling the administration’s budget for bee research.

Addressing colony collapse disorder and the decline of pollinators will require the combined effort of the scientific, environmental and business communities. I intend to make sure the federal government does its part; establishing funding for this research is a good start.

Boxer represents California in the U.S. Senate.

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