The $15 billion bee in President Obama’s bonnet

June 23

A bumble bee collects in Berlin on July 11, 2011. (WOLFGANG KUMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Honeybees have a sweet new ally: President Obama.

Plans for a “Pollinator Health Task Force” to help save bees from their mysterious decline were announced Friday in a presidential memorandum.

Why Obama’s worried: The decline of bees could sting the economy.

“Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States,” the administration said in the release. “Over the past few decades, there has been a significant loss of pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies, from the environment. The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment.”

Last winter, 23.2 percent of the country’s managed honey bee colonies died, according to a report by the Bee Informed Partnership, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Deaths are fewer than during the 2012-2013 winter, but still higher than the “acceptable” rate of about 19 percent, the report said.

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The task force will have 180 days to create a strategy to prevent future bee loss. Specifically, the task force will investigate how to reduce pollinator exposure to pesticides found to harm bumblebees by interfering with their homing abilities, according to two studies detailed by Reuters.

In a 2011 United Nations report, U.N. Environment Program Executive Director Achim Steiner said “the way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century.”

Steiner said in the report that of 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, more than 70 are pollinated by bees.

“Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature,” Steiner said in the release. “Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less dependent on nature’s services in a world of close to seven billion people.”

The bee team will be co-chaired by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Related: “We all get stung by bee colony collapse”

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Lindsey Bever | June 23