Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer visited Albany’s Radix Ecological Sustainability Center Monday to raise awareness about a U.S. Department of Agriculture decision to stop collecting data on honey bees.
The federal government cited budget cuts when it announced it was suspending data collection for its annual Honey Bee Colonies report earlier this month. The report allows beekeepers to compare colony losses and movements on a quarterly, state-by-state basis. Senator Schumer, a Democrat, and beekeeper Chuck Kutik say that decision could leave farmers and researchers in the dark for a long time.
“They say it’s just for one year, they often do that – and then if they don’t get a lot of outcry, they do it the next year, the next year, and next year, and the next year," warns Schumer.
“Those statistics help provide research for us, but that research gets applied to fruit growers, vegetable growers, nut growers," adds Kutik. "It is a big issue that we do get those statistics on time so that they can be used to fund research.”
The decision comes as experts struggle to explain the decline of America’s honey bee population. Schumer says the number of bees nationwide has dropped from roughly 6 million in the 1940s to 2.5 million in 2017 – the same year New York’s beekeepers lost over 17,000 colonies during the winter.
Since honey bees pollinate roughly half of the state’s crops, Schumer says the lack of information puts a $1.2 billion agricultural market at risk.
“The varieties and kinds of fruits will not be available. If New York is particularly affected we’ll have to import more stuff from overseas and that’s more expensive and less good for our economy," he explains. "So this could affect the mom or dad just shopping for their family very soon.”
Graig Moore has been beekeeping for over a decade, and with the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center for the past year. He says the center, which maintains a farm in the middle of downtown Albany, is proof of how bees are crucial to a healthy ecosystem. He says the rise in colony collapses is confusing, as bees are generally pretty hardy. Standing next the Radix colony, Moore notes he’s seen feral colonies pop up all around Albany – and they don’t mind the rain.
“As long as it’s northeast facing, [so] they get the morning sun and the evening shade, I think they’re good – because down at the small business incubator, there is a feral bee hive in the wall of that building. There are actually two bee hives in close proximity – there’s one in the chimney, and one in the wall," says Moore. "It goes to show that they’re really not limited at all.”
Some scientists have theorized that the drop in bees is related to global warming or pesticide use. Schumer echoed that, saying “the whole federal government under this administration denies global warming and tries to hide the evidence that it is.” He adds the decision doesn’t actually save that much money.
“It’s millions of dollars, it’s not a huge amount of money – that’s why I think there’s probably some other motivation," Schumer says. "But you do have the guy who’s head of [the Office of Management and Budget], and now who’s chief of staff, named Mick Mulvaney, who wants to cut everything. He wants to cut the armed forces, he wants to cut education, he wants to cut transportation. So his – bad pun – sticky fingers may have gotten down to this level.”
Schumer vowed to push the USDA not only to reconsider its plan, but to step up honey bee reporting efforts. In its announcement, the USDA said the overall honey bee colony report will still be released on August 1 – but with statistics limited to January 1, 2018, to April 1, 2019.