The federal government hopes to reverse America's declining honeybee and monarch butterfly populations by making more federal land bee-friendly, spending more on research, and considering the use of less pesticides. Scientists say bees—crucial to pollinate many crops—have been hurt by a combination of declining nutrition, mites, disease, and pesticides. The plan is an "all hands on deck" strategy that calls on everyone from federal bureaucrats to citizens to do what they can to save bees, which provide more than $15 billion in value to the US economy. "Pollinators are struggling," a White House scientist says, citing a survey that found beekeepers lost more than 40% of their colonies last year, although they later recovered by dividing surviving hives. The plan calls for restoring 7 million acres of bee habitat in the next five years.
Numerous agencies will have to grow plants on federal lands that are more varied and better for bees; scientists think large land tracts that grow only one crop have hurt bee nutrition. "There is really only one hope for bees, and it's to make sure they spend a good part of the year in safe, healthy environments," a researcher says. "The apparent scarcity of these areas is what's worrying. This could change that." The administration proposes spending $82.5 million on honeybee research in the upcoming budget year, up $34 million from now, while the EPA will step up studies into the safety of widely used neonicotinoid pesticides. Meanwhile, the number of monarch butterflies that spend the winter in Mexico's forests is down by 90% over two decades, so Washington is working with Mexico to expand monarch habitats. (Read more honeybees stories.)