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Pollinator Protection

Many types of plants, including fruit and vegetable crops, depend on animals for pollination. Although honey bees are often first thought of as pollinators, many other types of animals pollinate crops and wildflowers, including wild bees, ants, beetles, wasps, lizards, birds, and bats. The EPA is concerned about declines in pollinator health, and is working to protect bees and other pollinators from pesticide risks through regulatory actions, voluntary changes to pesticide use by registrants and research programs aimed at increasing the understanding of factors associated with declining pollinator health.

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Declining Pollinator Health and Colony Collapse Disorder

The EPA's pollinator protection efforts were furthered by a report documenting the threat to pollinators, the National Research Council's report on the Status of Pollinators in North America Exit EPA disclaimer and the advent of Colony Collapse Disorder in 2006.

The prevailing theory among scientists in the EPA, USDA and global scientific and regulatory community is that the general declining health of honey bees is related to complex interactions among multiple stressors including:

More details on the current understanding of the health of honey bees in the United States are available in the following report: http://www.usda.gov/documents/ReportHoneyBeeHealth.pdf (72 pp, 1.2MB, PDF).

Colony Collapse Disorder is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. Once thought to pose a major long term threat to bees, reported cases of CCD have declined substantially over the last five years. The number of hives that do not survive over the winter months – the overall indicator for bee health – has maintained an average of about 30 percent since 2008. While winter losses remain relatively high, the number of those losses attributed to CCD has dropped from roughly 60 percent of total hives lost in 2008 to 26 percent in 2012.

Please see our Colony Collapse Disorder web page for more information.

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Federal Efforts to Improve Bee Health

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is leading the federal government’s effort to examine CCD and honey bee health. The EPA is part of this effort and is focusing on aspects related to pesticides.

While the EPA and USDA attempt to understand the role pesticides may be playing in pollinator declines, recent declines in commercial honey bees have refocused efforts to identify and implement best management practices to minimize unintended contact between bees and pesticides. This is particularly challenging given the critical role bees play in pollinating agricultural crops as well as the important role insecticides play in controlling pests in agriculture. The EPA and USDA are leading collaborative efforts with a wide range of stakeholders to keep bees safe from pesticides.

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EPA Efforts to Address Pesticide Exposure

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