Honeybee populations across the U.S. continue their steady decline, but the Trump administration has decided to cut funding for an annual nationwide survey that tracks the issue.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said last month that the survey was canceled due to necessary cost-cutting measures in the department, according to McClatchy DC, marking the end of a program that began under former President Barack Obama in 2015.
The survey gathered data on lost colonies, new colonies and renovated colonies.
Honeybees and other pollinators face population declines due to “parasites, pesticide use, destruction of habitat and the climate crisis,” and those threats have shown no sign of abating.
In California, where honeybees are shipped in to pollinate the many crops of almonds, apples, avocados and grapes, the parasite varroa is the primary threat.
Data covering through April — which is the last that the USDA will produce — showed a slight decline in the honeybee population in California, as well as across the country.
From January 2017 to January 2019, California lost about 30,000 honeybee colonies, or about 2.6 percent of the overall population.
From 2015 to 2017, the state lost about 270,000 colonies.
Gordon Frankie, a honeybee researcher at the University of California at Berkeley Essig Museum of Entomology, said long-term research is necessary to determine what trends are at play and what factors contribute to population losses — and long-term funding is tough to come by in the private sector.
“There’s always a cry for more, long-term research but it’s hard to get things funded past three years,” the researcher said. “Cutting back on anything that has to do with pollination is just a disaster.”
Frankie also warned that "mortality rates on honeybees have increased, he warned, currently at 40 percent — up from a more typical 25 percent," adding that the only reason losses have not been worse is because beekeepers are splitting successful colonies to create more.
Without research like that done by the USDA, he said, beekeepers cannot adequately respond to trends.