Adding to a string of great green initiatives coming out of the White House recently, President Obama recently announced the creation of a new Pollinator Health Task Force. The Task Force will address declining populations of honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies. As a sign of how seriously the White House is taking the problem, the task force has just 180 days to come up with a national pollinator health strategy, “which shall include explicit goals, milestones, and metrics to measure progress.”
Cannily, the new initiative also focuses on the inarguable economic imperative of taking action on an environmental issue. The White House press release opens by stating: “Pollinators contribute substantially to the economy of the United States and are vital to keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets. Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States.” The announcement acknowledges that migrating Monarch butterfly populations were at their lowest ever recorded level in the 2013–14 season, and that honey bee populations are at grave risk of declining to commercially unsustainable levels.
The Task Force is to be co-chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy. It will also include the heads of 15 Federal Departments, Offices and Councils. They have six months to develop a Pollinator Research Action Plan, a Public Education Plan, and Public-Private Partnerships involving State, tribal, and local governments, farmers, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations.
While stopping short of a much-called-for ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, under the terms of the announcement and within the time frame “the Environmental Protection Agency shall assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bee and other pollinator health and take action, as appropriate, to protect pollinators.” The agencies involved are also ordered to include extensive measures for enhancing pollinator habitat, including choice of seed mix in revegetation and post-fire rehabilitation projects, installing pollinator-friendly native landscaping, and minimizing the use of pesticides harmful to pollinators. The President has also directed that: “Future landscaping projects at all Federal facilities shall, to the maximum extent appropriate, use plants beneficial to pollinators.”