Research on honeybees hit by Trump budget cuts

By | July 8, 2019

CNN reports:

The US Department of Agriculture has suspended data collection for its annual Honey Bee Colonies report, citing cost cuts — a move that robs researchers and the honeybee industry of a critical tool for understanding honeybee population declines, and comes as the USDA is curtailing other research programs.

It’s also another step toward undoing President Barack Obama’s government-wide focus on protecting pollinators, including bees and butterflies, whose populations have plummeted in recent years. [Continue reading…]

WJLA reports:

Last year was the highest loss of honeybees that has ever has been recorded, an annual survey shows.

United States Beekeepers lost over 40% of colonies during the last year, with the survey showing an increasing number in a winter die-off of honeybees.

The troubling results indicate beekeepers lost 40.7% of their honey bee colonies from April 2018 to April 2019. [Continue reading…]

Vice News reports:

Housed inside the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the federal agency that regulates all things farming and food — is a little-known research organization that has, for six decades, helped quietly guide the country’s foreign and domestic agriculture policy.

Over 300 employees at the Economic Research Service track the health of the American farm industry, studying everything from the projected impact of global temperature changes on crop yields to the promise of genetically modified organisms. Agency employees consider it as among the most prestigious jobs an agricultural economist can land.

“This is the ears and eyes of [presidential] administrations — on domestic policy, environmental policy, risk assessment, and technology adoption,” said David Zilberman, Chair of the University of California-Berkeley’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

But USDA employees fear all the agency’s work could be erased completely if the Trump administration follows through with plans to uproot the division — and all its scientists — and move them to Kansas City.

The researchers’ union anticipates, after an unofficial count, that as many as 80 percent of the employees are planning to quit rather than move, and that will disrupt entire fields of study, ranging from honeybee pollination patterns to how crop prices fluctuate with changes in consumer demand. Their positions will take years to fill, if USDA staff recruits new hires at all.

“I think, as a whole, we feel that this is a pattern of hostility toward scientific research at our agency,” said Laura Dodson, a researcher and union steward at the agency. She and Zilberman estimate that the attrition spurred in part by this move will set the agency back five to ten years. [Continue reading…]

The CNN report cited above refers to honeybees as “a darling of environmentalists and climate activists” — as though concern about the welfare of these celebrities of the insect world has as much to do with their cuteness and ties with human history as it does with wider fears about ecological collapse. Indifference about the fate of these creatures, however, is simply an expression of ignorance.

In a world where so many people think food comes from supermarkets and on the occasions that they see either insect can’t differentiate between a bee and a wasp, it’s little wonder that environmental issues get inadequate news coverage. The environment, far from being experienced as the planet-encompassing and intricately formed vessel supporting the totality of life, including ours, seems to have a much more nebulous location somewhere outside the city limits.

It’s also ironic that in a society in which so many people label themselves “pro-life,” the political powers aligned with this issue are also the most ruthless defenders of life-threatening commercial interests.

What’s missing in these perspectives that undervalue the lives of insects and that focus on the pursuit of narrowly defined human interests, is an awareness that the continued existence of the world as we know it, truly depends on the preservation of diverse ecosystems.

Perceptions to the contrary notwithstanding, this is where we live and breath and we only divorce ourselves from our actual habitat by believing in fantasies about living someplace else — an imaginary human world that somehow stands outside nature.

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