Monday, December 12, 2016
New Effort to Help Bees
This is important work. Last year the nation lost about a third of its honeybee population which alone contribute $15 annually in pollination services for flowering crops. Mass die offs of honeybee and wild bee populations are under investigation by science. Most informed observers think that the overuse and abuse of pesticides in commercial agriculture is to blame. Chronic use of these substances for over a century has weakened and degraded bee health to the point they can no longer resist natural diseases and pests. In turn, their genetic code has been altered from the wild state making them less robust. Restoration of natural, healthy habitat is an effective means of assisting bee population to flourish. The Current Occupant established a task force in 2014 that committed to restoring 7 million acres of habitat. With restoration comes unwanted species of course. Part of the Xerces-USDA project will be to identify plants that do not attract "pests" and accordingly advise farmers engaged in restoration projects. Insects are often genetically adapted to feed on a limited number of plant species. Tolerance of natural processes that may inflict some commercial losses but increase pollinator health will also assist sustainability. Restoration is not an inexpensive effort. Dense flowering areas with a variety of wild plants can cost $1000 to $2000 an acre. Preparing the soil and planting the right plants and shrubs in the right place is labor intensive which surprises modern farmers: you just don't hook up the disc and blaze down the ruler strait rows in your air-conditioned tractor.
Xerces has planted about 400,000 acres of habitat since its restoration efforts began in 2008. It will measure success of the program based on the total area of land restored. The biologists will also, at some point, walk the fields and count the variety and number of bees. A good mix in nature, as always, is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem.