The Final Stand for Bees

October 7, 2016

It’s official – bees are on the endangered species list.

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted endangered status to seven species of bees, marking the first time the insect has been protected by federal law under the Endangered Species Act.

It may not be the last.

While these endangered bees are native to Hawaii, pollinators are also being threatened in the contiguous United States. Wild bee abundance is estimated to have declined across 23 percent of the continental U.S. in recent years, and according the National Academy of Sciences, “this decline was generally associated with conversion of natural habitats to row crops,” at the expense of vital bee forage.

This summer, the United States Geological Survey further confirmed these concerns in a report showing that the “continual increase in biofuel crops” — plantings of corn and soy — has led to America’s Northern Great Plains “rapidly changing to a landscape that is less conducive to commercial beekeeping.”

If the ethanol mandates continue on this current crash course, bees, which pollinate “two-thirds of the food crops humans eat every day,” face the risk of colony collapse.

For almond, cranberry, pumpkin, apple or cherry farmers, this could mean higher operating costs due to the demand for pollination. Already, farmers cite short supply and high demand for bees as responsible for the increasing — sometimes unmanageable — costs for bee colony rentals necessary to ensuring their harvests.

According to experts, areas of mismatch between supply and demand for pollination “comprise 39% of the pollinator-dependent crop area in the United States.” A continuation of this trend, the National Academy of Sciences report shows, “may even destabilize crop production over time,” leaving consumers in the lurch.

We rely on bees every day, and the endangerment of several species in Hawaii may be foreshadowing for what may come in the continental U.S. It’s our time to stand up for the everyman — and everybee — and call for meaningful reform of the Renewable Fuel Standard.