Plan Bee: Understanding Threats to the Honey Bee Population and Examining Strategies to Promote and Protect Pollinators

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Mildred Pfrogner

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In the United States, bees and other insects make important contributions through their pollination of wild vegetation, local plant life, and commercial crops. Approximately one-third of food crops, to include apples, strawberries, tomatoes, and almonds, depend on pollination, as do alfalfa and clover, which provide feed for beef and dairy production. By some estimates, pollinators’ activities amount to roughly $15 billion per year in economic value. Ecosystem processes such as food webs, biofuel production, carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas absorption, and the creation of habitats for various animal species result from pollination. Since animal pollinators and ecosystems are mutually dependent on one another, both must be protected to prevent the failure of either.
Pollinators are vulnerable to an assortment of threats that affect their health and ability to pollinate, the consequences of which have increased considerably over the past five to ten years. Current widespread risks include colony collapse disorder, climate change, habitat loss, monocultures, plant pesticides, chemical fertilizers, parasites, stress from transportation, poor nutrition, and pesticides used in hives to treat mites. Human intervention in agricultural and natural systems tragically affects pollinator populations.
This thesis looks closely at the contributions made by pollinators and examines the existing research on threats to pollinators’ health and performance. The United States’ economy, environmental health, and food security depend on pollinators, which lends an urgency to understanding pollinator declines, restoring pollinator health, and protecting this high-value asset. Furthermore, this thesis examines whether pollinator health is a homeland security issue. Many nations that rely on pollinators have focused on the numerous present threats and are taking measures to protect and promote pollinators. The United States introduced the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators (referred to herein as the National Strategy) in 2015. Similarly, in 2018, the European Union unveiled its EU Pollinators Initiative. This thesis evaluates the U.S. and EU pollinator policies to derive lessons learned that could contribute to enhanced food security and other environmental benefits.
Key findings of the analysis are as follows:
• Expansion of farming, destruction of natural habitats, and the use of pesticides are the primary culprits of pollinator decline.
• All pollinators are part of a delicately balanced ecosystem.
• The National Strategy emphasizes specific pollinators, like honey bees and monarch butterflies, while the EU policy has a broad focus and includes all pollinators.
• Both the U.S. and EU policies encourage research on pollinators to help inform mitigation efforts, identify gaps in current knowledge, and prioritize research accordingly.
• The National Strategy plans to enrich 7 million acres of federal land for pollinators.
• The European Union protects pollinators from neonicotinoid pesticides; pollinators in the United States lack protection from these pesticides.
• The European Union employs a proactive approach to the effects of climate change on pollinators, whereas the U.S. focus is minimal.
• The EU policy details the pollinator protection policies of its nation-states, whereas the U.S. policy does not incorporate state policies.
The contributions pollinators make to the food security of our nation are vital. Because pollinators face ever-growing threats to their health and stability, they urgently need to be protected. In other words, pollinator health is a homeland security issue. The Department of Homeland Security has a role to play in protecting pollinators by ensuring the nation’s critical infrastructure sector partners like the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency are taking specific steps to mitigate dangers to pollinators at the local, regional, and federal levels. Additionally, comparing the strategies of different nations is one tool policymakers can use to safeguard pollinator populations. The recommendations resulting from this research are for the U.S. National Strategy to emphasize the protection of all pollinators, to restrict the use of harmful pesticides such as neonicotinoids, to proactively address climate change, and to incorporate state pollinator plans within the federal policy.

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