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How the White House plans to help the humble bee maintain its buzz

By Juliet Eilperin via Washington Post

The humble bee — nuisance, threat, and linchpin of the American food supply — has won over the leader of the free world. And now President Obama is intervening on the bee’s behalf as its habitat dwindles.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration will announce the first National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, a bureaucratic title for a plan to save the bee, other small winged animals and their breeding grounds. The initiative may feel like the kind of niche interest a second-term president devotes his time to, but scientists say his attention to the busy workforce that sustains many American crops is critical. While bee colonies regularly die off during winter because of stressful conditions, their sharp decline has been called a potential ecological disaster by some environmentalists and academic experts; conservative Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) described it in an interview as “an essential thing [that] we need to pay attention to.”

The strategy, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, will seek to manage the way forests burned by wildfire are replanted, the way offices are landscaped and the way roadside habitats where bees feed are preserved.

It is also the culmination of a years-long fascination Obama has had with the bee and its worrisome fate.

“I have to say that it is mighty darn lovely having the White House acknowledge the indigenous, unpaid and invisible workforce that somehow has managed to sustain all terrestrial life without health-care subsidies, or a single COLA, for that past 250?million years,” said Sam Droege, a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist and one of the country’s foremost experts on native bee identification…

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“Bees Under Stress” – Click To View Graphic

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Pollinator Politics: Environmentalists Criticize Obama Plan To Save Bees

The buzz around bees has been bad lately. As we’ve reported, beekeepers say they lost 42 percent of honeybee colonies last summer.

And it seems that fixing what ails bees is no simple task. Over the past few decades, they’ve been hit by diseases and habitat loss. There’s also increasing evidence that a type of pesticides called neonicotinoids are linked to bees’ decline, too.

This could be bad news for all of us, since bees and other pollinators are critical to our food supply.

Honeybees alone, according to an Obama administration estimate, add $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year by pollinating everything from almonds and apples to blueberries and squash.

And now the administration has put forth a new action plan to reverse the declines in bees.

A key component is a strategy to restore 7 million acres of bee-friendly habitat that have been lost to urbanization, development and farming.

“It’s a big step in the right direction,” says Nigel Raine, a professor who studies pollinator conservation at the University of Guelph, in Canada.

The idea is to plant many types of wildflowers — in lots of different areas — so that bees have more places to forage and nest. “It’s making sure they have sufficient flowers to feed on,” says Raine — and places to live.

Many environmentalists say restoring bee habitat is a good place to start, but they’re critical that the Obama administration has not taken a harder line in limiting the use of neonicotinoids.

The Natural Resources Defense Council says more urgent action is needed to safeguard our food supply. “To truly save bees and other pollinators, we must drastically cut down on today’s pervasive use of neonicotinoids and other pesticides,” Peter Lehner, executive director of the NRDC, said in a press release.

And a similar message is coming from Friends of the Earth. The White House Pollinator Strategy won’t solve the bee crisis, the group says.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced in April that it is not likely to approve new uses of neonicotinoids, but the plan announced by the administration on Tuesday did not call for restrictions on current uses.

Lisa Archer, who leads the food and technology program at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement: “President Obama’s National Pollinator Health Strategy misses the mark by not adequately addressing the pesticides as a key driver of unsustainable losses of bees and other pollinators essential to our food system.”

The European Union has already moved to restrict the use of neonicotinoids. And as we’ve reported, there are proposals in Canada to limit use of the pesticides, too.

But a leading manufacturer of the pesticides says neonic restrictions are not necessary. “Neonicotinoids — when used according to labeled directions — can be used safely with pollinators,” Becky Langer of Bayer Crop Science told us.

She says the administration’s strategy to restore bee-friendly habitat is a good approach, and points out that Bayer is helping to address this issue with its Bee Care Center and efforts to encourage the expansion of habitat.

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Plan Bee: White House Unveils Strategy To Protect Pollinators

By Brian Naylor via

There is a buzz in the air in Washington, and it’s about honeybees. Concerned about an alarming decline in honeybee colonies, the Obama administration has released a National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.

NPR’s Dan Charles says the strategy, despite its rather bureaucratic title, is pretty straightforward: “The government will provide money for more bee habitat and more research into ways to protect bees from disease and pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency also will re-evaluate a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids … which are commonly used on some of the most widely planted crops in the country.”

As NPR’s Allison Aubrey has reported:

“Scientists have shown that a range of factors — from climate change to viruses to loss of habitat — are contributing to the global decline in bee health.

“And two new studies published in the journal Nature add to the evidence that overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides may also be contributing to the decline of bees.

“Neonics, as they’re known for short, have become among the most widely used insecticides in the world. The pesticide is coated onto the seeds that farmers plant to grow their crops. These pretreated seeds are used extensively in corn, soy and canola crops. In fact, it’s estimated that treated seeds are used in more than 95 percent of the U.S. corn crop.”

The White House strategy aims to reduce honeybee colony losses during the winter to no more than 15 percent within 10 years. It’s also concerned with the monarch butterfly, another species in decline. The government wants to increase the Eastern population of the monarch to 225 million butterflies occupying an area of approximately 15 acres in the insect’s Mexico wintering grounds. And it sets a goal of restoring or enhancing 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years. The strategy is the work of the White House Pollinator Health Task Force, an Obama administration initiative launched last year. President Obama has taken a personal interest in the plight of the honeybees. There is a beehive in the White House garden, the honey from which is an ingredient in the White House beer recipe. (If you’re interested in a good buzz.) Critics, however, say the White House strategy doesn’t go far enough. Friends of the Earth issued a stinging rebuke to the administration’s plan, charging that it “failed to adequately address the impact of pesticides, including neonicotinoid insecticides on bees and other pollinators.” Puns aside, it’s a serious issue. According to The Washington Post:

“Over the past five years, winter losses of commercial honeybee colonies have averaged roughly 30 percent. A consortium of universities and research laboratories announced last week that beekeepers lost 42.1 percent of their colonies between April 2014 and 2015, an 8 percent spike from the previous year, and that the number of summer deaths exceeded winter deaths for the first time since the survey began in 2010.”

The Obama administration says honeybee pollination adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year. [Read the original article via]

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WATCH: Beekeeping @ the White House ?!!!

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ONE YEAR AGO TODAY we made our first speech to the Mar Vista Community Council to begin the process of legalizing urban beekeeping in Los Angeles! 

Since then we have had a total of 7 COMMUNITY COUNCILS within Los Angeles pass motions in support of our efforts (Mar Vista, Del Rey, South Robertson, Greater Griffith Park, Silver Lake, Hollywood United, and Atwater Village).

And last month we received a motion by Los Angeles Councilmember Bill Rosendahl instructing the city’s planning department to begin preparing a report ”relative to the feasibility of allowing beekeeping in R1 zones as a practive to foster a healtheir bee population.” - View the full motion here!

Click here sign our petition!

Below is the speech Rob McFarland of gave to the Mar Vista Community Council last year:

They say that you don’t choose to be a beekeeper, but rather the bees choose you. My wife, Chelsea, and I got involved with bees out of passion, but also out of chance. When a swarm of feral honeybees came into our garden one afternoon, we were recruited into the ranks of beekeepers, an order that includes everyone from Aristotle, the Apostle Luke, Alexander the Great and several of our country’s founding fathers, to Steve Jobs, Martha Stewart and Michele Obama. The problem was, giving them a home was not legal, but incomprehensibly, exterminating them was.

As avid gardeners, Chelsea and I had been following the Backwards Beekeepers blog for several years prior to the swarm showing up, so we knew exactly who to call. A few hours later, a volunteer from the organization showed up and removed the bees without incident. We were able to find a new home for them in Santa Monica where they are now happily making honey. This experience drove us to learn more about honeybees and start an organization committed to saving bees from extinction by educating and inspiring urban beekeepers.

The histories of the human species and that of the honeybee are inseparable. Neither species could have evolved to present conditions without the symbiotic relationship that we harbor. Albert Einstein is thought to have said, “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” The reason for his grim prognosis is the fact that bees pollinate 80% of the world’s plants including 90 different food crops, which means that 1 out of every 3 bites of food is thanks to a bee.

Unfortunately, we have real reason to fear the specter raised by Mr. Einstein. Since 2006, more than one third of honeybee colonies collapsed nationwide, a global phenomenon now called Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. And while there is no one smoking gun causing CCD, scientists now widely agree that it is a result of a combination of factors, made manifest by industrial beekeeping. The practice of trucking hives great distances to pollinate crops, exposing bees to countless pesticides, interfering with the species’ natural defenses by treating them with miticides and antibiotics, and feeding them high fructose corn syrup – junk food – has made bees incredibly vulnerable and on the brink of collapse. If present trends continue, scientists estimate there will be no more bees by 2035. That is, only if we fail to act, if we fail to recognize this disaster in the making and don’t take strong action to counter the slow march to extinction.

So what do we do? According to Simon Buxton as quoted in the new documentary Vanishing of the Bees, “the future of beekeeping is not in 1 beekeeper with 60,000 hives, but rather 60,000 people with 1 hive.”

The best science tells us that the future of the honeybee is within the urban environment; cities actually provide safer habitat than the farms and rural areas traditionally associated with beekeeping. Monocultures, or the planting of a single crop, are problematic for bees because outside of the brief window when the crop is in bloom, these vast plots become devoid of the pollen and nectar that hives require for survival.

Cities, however, provide greater biodiversity for foraging bees throughout the year, which drastically reduces if not eliminates the need to feed bees or disturb them by moving their hives. And due to most people not wanting pesticides on their property or near their family, bees are granted a ‘get out of jail free’ card, thus eliminating one more reason for their decline. The city environment is therefore the last refuge of the honeybee.

Atlanta, New York, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Spokane, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver and most recently Santa Monica  [AND REDONDO BEACH!!] have all taken decisive action and legalized urban beekeeping. We believe it to be a necessary and just measure requiring immediate action. We humbly request that you support our motion in the spirit of preserving the future of the honeybee.

Thank you!

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White House Garden Yields a Ton of Produce, Literally!

“Back in 2009, Michelle Obama had a vision to create a garden at the White House. With the help of school children and Sam Kass, assistant White House chef and senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives, Mrs. Obama’s dream became a reality. The start-up cost for the garden that now graces the South Lawn was $200 and it has produced over 2,000 pounds of produce to date in a 1,500 square foot space.

The produce created at the White House includes a variety of vegetables (lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, etc.) and an abundance of fresh herbs (cilantro, rosemary, parsley, sage, thyme, etc.).

According to Sam Kass, the veggies are not certified organic, but no pesticides are used. Kass tells Better Homes and Gardens, “– we use natural controls. We have ladybugs and praying mantises — they do a pretty good job of keeping our garden pest-free.” 

Veggies produced on the South Lawn garden go to more than just the dinner table at the White House. What doesn’t get stored, canned, or pickled goes to homeless shelters, the Navy mess that feeds the West Wing staff, and to the kitchen for State Dinners.

Michelle Obama has promoted, encouraged, and succeeded in showcasing a healthy food agenda with her White House garden. In addition to her garden, she has also added honeybees to the South Lawn which provide pollination for the garden and, of course, honey, a fabulous alternative to sugar.”

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White House Bees

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