USDA cuts honeybee colonies report despite declining bee numbers

By  | 

(CNN) — Some scientists are buzzing mad about the Trump administration's decision to cut research about dropping honeybee populations.

A honeybee report is being cut by the USDA.

Bee populations already on the decline now face an added blow as the U.S. Department of Agriculture suspended collecting data for its annual honeybee colonies report: a critical tool for understanding the plummeting honeybee population.

"With the eventual loss of the bee population, what you would see is more desert than you would see healthy vibrant landscapes. Their critical impact is on the food source," said Bill Bundy, a Virginia beekeeper.

It's estimated that one-third of the U.S. food supply depends on the bee because they help pollinate many crops we eat, including apples, avocados, almonds and grapes.

Bee populations have been steadily declining since 2006. Colonies face threats from parasites, pesticides, habitat loss and climate change.

In 2014, the Obama administration launched a program to address the plummeting honeybee population, directing federal agencies to track the problem and work on preserving bee colonies, as well as other critical pollinators, including butterflies.

The Trump administration, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is now undoing those efforts, last year reversing an Obama-era rule barring the use of a chemical that is known to contribute to the decline of bee colonies.

The EPA has also granted "emergency" permission to 18 states, under certain circumstances, to spray an insecticide considered highly toxic to bees.

"We will defend the environment but we will also defend American sovereignty, American prosperity and we will defend American jobs," President Donald Trump said in defending his environmental policy.

A survey that tracked how farmers pay for honeybees to pollinate their crops was suspended in 2018, and another survey on honey production was scaled back.

Now, a third bee-related database, aimed at tracking how many bees are being lost, is being suspended.

"Keeping this statistical study going is very important so that we understand what's going on and you can make the resources available to try to solve the problem," Bundy said. "You need to have a database that says, in fact, our bees are thriving or, in fact, our bees are not thriving."

It's part of the Trump administration's rollout of its own environmental plan.

"My administration is now revising the past administration's misguided regulations to better protect the environment and to protect our American workers," Trump said.

The USDA said the critical data-collection suspension was "temporary," stating "the decision to suspend data collection was not made lightly but was necessary given available fiscal and program resources."

Saving the bees has typically been a bipartisan effort.

Former first lady Michelle Obama and current second lady Karen Pence have both taken up the cause.

Obama brought a beehive to the White House, and Pence followed suit.

"One of reasons that we wanted to bring a beehive to the vice president's residence was because we wanted to help our bee population. It was important to us to do what we could. A lot of our crops are highly dependent on bees to pollinate." Pence said.

Some scientists say the current turnaway from the bee crisis is part of the administration's larger goal to cut or undermine federal research on food safety, farm productivity and climate change.

Copyright 2019 CNN. All rights reserved.