Will President Barack Obama save the honeybees and monarch butterflies? He — and First Lady Michelle Obama — apparently want to try.
The White House convened a group of bee and butterfly experts in April for thoughts on saving the creatures critical to the environment — and advocates expect the Obama administration to announce an action plan for pollinators this month, timed to coincide with National Pollinator Week, which begins next Monday.
Michelle Obama has also warned about the impact of shrinking bee and butterfly populations as she planted the first-ever Pollinator Garden this year at the White House.
Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota, a leading bee researchers who attended the White House summit, told CQ Roll Call she wants more funding for bee research, labeling requirements for urban pesticides and funding for bee corridors along roads and utility lines , among other items.
Another attendee quoted the president's chief science adviser, John P. Holdren, at the event :
"This is an issue that President Obama personally cares about: ways of protecting and nourishing natural capital, including ecosystem services," Holdren said. "We are happy to see this intersection between people inside government and outside government trying to figure out how we can meet the challenges we face. Bees and butterflies have become like the canaries in the coal mine and that should be a wake up call for all of us."There's also a controversy over whether Obama should ban pesticides known as neonicotinoids to try and protect bees.
Some lawmakers have pushed for a legislative ban on neonicotinoids . And some groups, like the Center for Food Safety, want the president — via the EPA — to ban the use of neonicotinoids on plants pollinators like to eat on his own rather than waiting for Congress to act.
Neonicotinoids are a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide, and Europe has already taken action to temporarily ban their use.
A Harvard study released last month linked neonicotinoid pesticides to Colony Collapse Disorder .
(Others have been skeptical of the impact of those pesticides, as noted in this column in Forbes .)
An industry group reported that corporations including Bayer CropScience, MGK, Monsanto, Syngenta and Valent also met with White House staff in April on the bee issue.
Bees are a key to tens of billions of dollars of food production — and various causes of mass bee deaths have been investigated, including mites and viruses as well as pesticides.
(The National Cotton Council of America argued pesticides have been unfairly targeted in a Roll Call letter to the editor.)
Monsanto has also been working on a new pesticide aimed at targeting mite-carried viruses .
Earlier this year, the first lady spearheaded the creation of the Pollinator Garden next to the Kitchen Garden. A few years back she oversaw the addition of what is believed to be the first White House beehive.
She talked about the need for bees on April 2, as Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times reported in this video:
"They pollinate the plants, they help the plants grow. But why do we need to help bees and butterflies — what’s happening to them? Yell it out. They’re dying because of disease — we don’t even know why some beehives are just totally disappearing.
"But that could be a problem for the planet because if you don’t have insects and great pollinators to pollinate the plants, it could affect our food source, it could affect our ability to continue to grow things. And that would be a problem."
The Pollinator Garden "is going to help to contribute to improving that problem," she said. "So we’re going to plant all kinds of flowers that attract bees and butterflies, which is not going to make the Obama girls happy because they don’t really like bees. But bees are good. Bees are a good thing. So you guys are going to help do that, and that’s the first time we’ve done a pollinator garden. Pretty cool, huh?"
A petition urging the first lady to ban pesticides from the White House and urge a ban on neonicotinoids has more than 133,000 signatures at last check.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment Monday.