Policy Fight Looms As Agencies Treat Honeybees — a 17th-Century Import — As Exotic Invader

A bitter feud between beekeepers and federal land managers is coming to a head as the Obama administration prepares plans for stemming a steep decline in pollinators.

Under President Obama’s June executive order, federal agencies must submit reports to the White House by Dec. 20 defining how they will address insects and animals that spread pollen from plant to plant. The President’s Pollinator Task Force, headed by the Agriculture Department and U.S. EPA, will incorporate those reports into a federal strategy on pollinator protection (Greenwire, June 20).

But commercial beekeepers say some land managers are intent on keeping out one of the most important pollinators — and the only one that makes money while doing so: the European honeybee.

Apis mellifera

Apis mellifera, which arrived in what’s now the United States in the early 17th century, can compete with native bumblebees and transmit pathogens like the deformed wing virus, though the research is still developing on the issue. It also likes to forage on sweet clover, an invasive plant species that allows the bee to produce the popular clover honey.

This rankles the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and other agencies whose missions are to protect native species. Their aversion to honeybees, and their foods of choice, has made it difficult for beekeepers to get access to public lands, said Randy Verhoek, president of the American Honey Producers Association.

Access varies from region to region and land manager to land manager, Verhoek said. He hopes the president’s memorandum will be favorable to beekeepers when the task force releases its report early next year.

“It seems to be getting worse; it seems to be more regional,” he said. “We need a national, federal policy and guidelines; those guidelines need to be passed down to the local agencies, [so] we don’t have a whole bunch of individuals making individual decisions.” (Read More…)