White House’s bee, pollinator plan is spot on, expert says

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The comprehensive National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators released earlier this week by the Obama administration’s Pollinator Health Task Force “is a very well thought through document that provides a road map for improving pollinator health throughout the United States,” says leading entomologist and researcher Richard S. Cowles.

“Overall, from my perspective, (the national strategy) is placing emphasis in the correct areas,” Cowles, head scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station’s Valley Laboratory in Windsor, Conn., told Crop Protection News.

With more than 25 years of experience in the areas of biology, integrated pest management, and pest research, Cowles outlined the significance of the strategy.

Most importantly, he said, “it acknowledges the extraordinary impact caused by loss of bee forage habitat, and will provide direct actions to at least partially reverse the negative impacts from loss of high-quality habitat.”

Secondly, the plan is balanced in the sense that it does not place all the emphasis on honey bees and monarch butterflies, Cowles said. The plan “acknowledges the extraordinary value of native pollinators of all sorts, not only for agricultural pollination services, but also for maintaining the biodiversity of native flora,” he said.

“Thirdly, it provides for a balanced assessment of the various stressors that have led to the unsustainable losses of honey bee colonies: varroa mites and the need for selective miticides for managing this scourge of bees properly has a high profile,” he said.

In an email referencing the strategy, Cowles also said that “the high visibility of work to be conducted in assessing neonicotinoids is necessary,” and added that the administration’s strategy “is balanced regarding additional review of other acutely toxic pesticides, as well as developing appropriate methods for evaluating whole colony effects of pesticides.”

Most recently in his own work, Cowles in March was awarded a $54,000 grant from the Horticultural Research Institute as part of the Horticultural Industry Bee & Pollinator Stewardship Initiative.

According to HRI, “significant gaps” exist related to the concentration of systemic insecticides in the nectar or pollen of ornamental plants. These gaps, according to the institute, hamper growers’ efforts to assure the public and retail sellers of these plants that their practices have resulted in plants that are safe to bees and other pollinators.

The grant is helping Cowles – who has worked with systemic insecticides to manage tree pests for 23 years, mostly funded by the USDA Forest Service -- continue his work using plants commonly found in the landscape to research systemic insecticide uptake and potential pollinator interactions with nectar and pollen. The intent is to further establish best management guidelines for growing plants and protecting pollinators.