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White House Sets Strategy To Deal With Declines In Honey Bees, Butterflies

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The White House has announced a strategy to deal with the worrisome decline in honey bees and other pollinators seen as vital to maintaining the country's food supply.

Under the announced National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, the Obama administration wants to make more federal lands bee-friendly, increase funding for research and investigate ways of growing the country's food using less pesticide.

Scientists have sounded the alarm, saying bees that pollinate our crops have been in a catastrophic decline and pointing the finger of blame at pesticides, disease, parasites and loss of foraging areas.

Researchers have estimated that U.S. beekeepers lost more than 40 percent of their colonies between April 2014 and 2015.

"Pollinators are struggling," White House science adviser John Holdren wrote in a blog post.

"Pollinators are critical to the nation's economy, food security, and environmental health," he wrote on the website of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. "Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year, and helps ensure that our diets include ample fruits, nuts, and vegetables."

Under the announced strategy, efforts will be made to restore 7 million acres of bee habitat over the next five years, with a number of federal agencies working to grow more varied crops that are better for bees.

Bees are struggling as huge amounts of the American landscape have been turned into suburban lawns, and large swathes of agricultural land have been dedicated to single crops like corn that do not provide bees with foraging areas, researchers point out.

Experts were quick to praise the government's plans to increase habitat for honey bees.

"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," says entomology professor Dennis van Englesdorp of the University of Maryland, who led a federal study on honey bee decline last year. "The apparent scarcity of these areas is what's worrying. This could change that."

The White House has said it also wants to spend $82.5 million in the coming fiscal year on research into honey bees, an increase from the current $34 million.

Pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which have been temporarily banned in Europe because of a suspected link to honeybee decline, will be studied by the Environmental Protection Agency to ascertain their safety, it said.

The administration's strategy is also aimed at helping monarch butterflies, which have suffered similar declines that have seen just 10 percent of the normal number of butterflies surviving the migration from the U.S. to spend winter in forests in Mexico.

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