Not many White House fact sheets mention honeybees and Monarch butterflies. But one issued on Friday talked about them in detail, explaining why President Obama had signed a memorandum establishing the first-ever federal pollinator strategy.
The memo creates a new inter-agency task force charged with developing a federal strategy to protect pollinators, which aims to stave off the declines that pollinators such as honeybees, butterflies and bats have suffered in recent years. Obama instructed all federal agencies to use their powers "to broadly advance honey bee and other pollinator health and habitat," and the Agriculture Department announced $8 million in incentives to farmers and ranchers in five states who establish new habitats for honeybees.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday "there is a clear economic incentive for us" to protect pollinators because the crops they pollinate "have an impact of about $24 billion a year on the United States economy."
"And we’re going to continue to work in collaborative fashion with industry, with state and local leaders, with private landowners to address this problem," Earnest said,
In fact, one-third of our food supply--the fruits, vegetables and nuts we eat--are pollinated by bees. But the current U.S. honeybee population is now less than half of what it was in 1945.
The president's interest in pollinators is not simply economic, however: he has raised the issue with some of his top aides. White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said in an interview this spring with Politico's Mike Allen that Obama had mentioned an article to him that had to do with "the disappearing bees and the fact this is an issue that there are fewer bees, and this has to do with climate change."
And the White House senior adviser for nutrition policy Sam Kass--who also cooks dinner for the Obama family most weeknights--has also discussed the issue in depth with the president. It's one of the reasons the White House vegetable garden expanded to include a pollinator's garden this year.
And if the Democrats have their way, Washington will have one more high-profile bee advocate after the mid-term elections: Michael Eggman, who is hoping to unseat Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.). Eggman, a third-generation beekeeper and self-described member of the "beekeeper mafia," praised the administration for taking on the issue, "although until this point, not enough has been done."
"Colony Collapse Disorder appears to be a crisis with multiple factors including pesticide use and catastrophic climate change," Eggman said in a statement. "I am hopeful that the administration will carefully examine all possible causes and all potential solutions."
In other words, if you're rooting for bees to disappear, you might want to reassess. There are people in high places who are on their side.