POLITICS
07/08/2019 03:10 EDT | Updated 07/08/2019 06:43 EDT

Agriculture Department Suspends Critical Tracking Of Plunging Honey Bee Population

That's one way to overlook a problem.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that it’s suspending tracking the plunging honeybee population because of a budget shortfall.

The department will suspend data collection for its Honey Bee Colonies report, and officials did not say when — or if — it would be restarted. It will release data already collected from January 2018 through April of this year.

The Agricultural Department has been a key source of data on the insects, which is critically important to scientists and farmers.

The number of honey bee hives, vital to pollinating crops for the agricultural industry and other plants for wildlife, plummeted from 6 million in 1947 to 2.4 million in 2008. The worst honeybee hive loss on record occurred last winter as beekeepers reported a 40% loss of their colonies over the year. 

Critics say the USDA’s move is the latest evidence of the Trump administration’s war on science, and its goal of suppressing information about serious environmental harms increasing under Donald Trump’s presidency.

“This is yet another example of the Trump administration systematically undermining federal research on food safety, farm productivity and the public interest writ large,” Rebecca Boehm, an economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told CNN.

Ironically, Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen, gushed last month about National Pollinators Week and bragged about hives at the Pence residence.

The USDA survey was begun in 2015. It collected data on the number of honeybees by state each quarter. It also counted those lost to colony collapse disorder, which is decimating honeybee populations.

Bees help pollinate a third of all the crops Americans eat. A single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers each day.

Just two years ago, the USDA touted its work on honeybees, pointing out that managed colonies were responsible for increasing crop yield and quality by $15 billion. “Honey bees may be some of the hardest workers you’ll ever see, but they need our help,” the USDA said in a statement then. “At USDA, we are making sure that they get it.”

The Obama administration in 2014 launched a program to address declining bee populations — but Trump has been working to reverse those directives. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency lifted restrictions on a toxic insecticide known to be particularly lethal to bees on some 16 million acres in the U.S.

The USDA statement on cutting the program referred to fiscal restraints, but did not detail budget shortfalls nor did it reveal the cost of the program. The USDA is currently arranging to pay farmers an extra $27 billion in subsidies since 2018 to mitigate the effects of Trump’s trade war.

“The decision to suspend data collection was not made lightly but was necessary given available fiscal and program resources,” said a department statement.

Another annual survey is conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership, which relies on some funding from the USDA. But the USDA survey is considered to be more accurate because it has access to data from all registered beekeepers.

Two other USDA surveys — which tracked how farmers pay for honeybees to pollinate their crops and information on honey production — have also been cut back in the Trump administration, CNN reported.