Jeff Merkley Is Trying to Save America’s Honeybees

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) speaks for the bees.

Merkley on Thursday released a draft of a bill he’s sponsoring that would protect honeybees and other creatures that transfer pollen between flowers.

The Pollinator Recovery Act of 2016 seeks to protect birds, bats, Monarch butterflies, and most of all honeybees and native bees.

“It’s easy to forget about the critical role pollinators play in our food systems,” Merkley said Thursday in prepared remarks. “But if we’re not careful, we will only realize their importance when it’s too late and our agricultural industry has been decimated by their disappearance. Let’s take action now instead.”

According to a 2014 document released by the White House, the number of bee colonies in the United States alone has dwindled from 4 million in 1970 to 2.5 million today. The decline has been attributed to several things: pesticide exposure, lack of genetic diversity, diseases and mite infestations, and loss of habitat.

“Pollinators are really vital for our way of life,” says Scott Black, Executive Director for the Xerces Society, a Portland-based environmental organization that focuses on invertebrate conservation. “One in three bites of food we eat comes from a pollinator. That food is our most nutritious—our fruits, our vegetables, our nuts. Without pollinators, we’d have wheat, corn, rice, a few other things, but we’d have a pretty non-nutritious diet.”

The bill takes a comprehensive approach to slowing bee die-offs, including provisions to add 3 million acres of forage and habitat, create financial incentives for farmers to use bee-friendly pest control, and start a “native pollinator surveillance program and an extramural grant funding program for pollinator health monitoring and population tracking.”

Black says that the bill, which was written in conjunction with the Xerces Society and other environmental organizations, has a better chance of moving through Congress than the now dead insecticide-targeting Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2015, which received heavy pushback from the agro-chemical lobby.

The reason? The bill would mainly boost federal agencies in the conservation work they’re already doing. And politicians on both sides of the aisle generally agree, Black says, that a world without pollinators would be bleak.