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Federal Facilities Foster Honeybee Health for a Sustainable Future

by Madison Thomas
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Honeybee conservation

At federal facilities across the United States, the busy hum of judges, lawyers, and support staff is now joined by a more subtle buzz from thousands of humble honeybees residing on the rooftops. These industrious insects are not only contributing to the ecosystem but also playing a vital role in feeding the world. The Warren B. Rudman courthouse in Concord, New Hampshire, is just one of the federal buildings participating in the General Services Administration’s Pollinator Initiative—an essential government program dedicated to assessing and promoting the health of bees and other crucial pollinators that sustain life on Earth.

“No bees, no food,” emphasizes Noah Wilson-Rich, co-founder, CEO, and chief scientific officer of Best Bees, a Boston-based company contracted by the government to care for honeybee hives at federal buildings, including the New Hampshire courthouse. Bees are instrumental in pollinating the fruits, vegetables, hay, and alfalfa that sustain humans and the cattle that provide our meat. Furthermore, they contribute to the overall health of plants, which generate clean air through photosynthesis.

However, these busy insects, which contribute an estimated $25 billion annually to the U.S. economy, face numerous threats such as diseases, agricultural chemicals, and habitat loss, leading to the loss of approximately half of all honeybee hives each year. Without human intervention, including the creation of new hives by beekeepers, the world could face the dire consequences of bee extinction, resulting in global hunger and economic collapse, warns Wilson-Rich.

The Pollinator Initiative is a testament to the federal government’s commitment to sustainability, which includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting climate-resilient infrastructure. According to David Johnson, the General Services Administration’s sustainability program manager for New England, the program started with hives at 11 sites last year. While some sites are no longer part of the program, additional sites have been added, including two hives on the roof of the Rudman building in March.

The program’s objective is to collect data and determine whether the honeybees, with their foraging range of 3 to 5 miles (5 to 8 kilometers), can improve the health not only of the rooftop plants but also the flora in the surrounding area. “Honeybees are highly opportunistic,” Johnson explains. “They will feed on various types of plants.” This program helps identify plants and landscapes that benefit pollinators, enabling the government to make informed decisions about the trees and flowers to cultivate on building grounds.

Best Bees analyzes the plant DNA present in the honey to assess the diversity and health of the surrounding area, according to Wilson-Rich. Their findings indicate that bees with access to a more diverse diet tend to have better survival rates and productivity outcomes. Other federal facilities with honeybee hives include the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services headquarters in Baltimore, the federal courthouse in Hammond, Indiana, the Federal Archives Records Center in Chicago, and the Denver Federal Center.

The federal government’s efforts to protect bees are not solitary endeavors. The hives placed at federal sites are part of a larger network of approximately 1,000 hives in home gardens, businesses, and institutions nationwide. This collective effort aims to determine the factors that support or harm bees, ultimately contributing to their well-being. The General Services Administration’s Pollinator Initiative also seeks to identify strategies for maintaining a healthy and vibrant bee population, which can then serve as a model for both government and private sector properties, explains Amber Levofsky, senior program advisor for the administration’s Center for Urban Development.

While promoting sustainability and safeguarding pollinators remains the primary goal of this initiative, it has yielded an additional benefit. The surplus honey produced through these efforts is donated to local food banks, making a positive impact on the community’s well-being.

In summary, federal facilities across the country are actively nurturing honeybee populations through the General Services Administration’s Pollinator Initiative. By acknowledging the critical role of bees in our ecosystem and taking steps to protect them, these facilities are not only supporting sustainable agriculture but also safeguarding our planet’s future.

FAQ about Honeybee conservation

What is the Pollinator Initiative?

The Pollinator Initiative is a government program led by the General Services Administration in the United States. It aims to assess and promote the health of bees and other pollinators, which are crucial for sustaining life on Earth.

How are federal facilities involved in the Pollinator Initiative?

Federal facilities across the country are participating in the Pollinator Initiative by hosting honeybee hives on their rooftops. These facilities, such as courthouses and administrative buildings, work with contracted companies to take care of the honeybee colonies and promote their well-being.

Why are honeybees important for food production?

Honeybees play a vital role in pollinating fruits, vegetables, hay, and alfalfa, which are essential for our food production. They also contribute to the health of plants that produce clean air through photosynthesis. Without honeybees, our food supply and ecosystem would be severely impacted.

What threats do honeybees face?

Honeybees face numerous threats, including diseases, agricultural chemicals, and habitat loss. These factors contribute to the annual loss of approximately half of all honeybee hives. If left unchecked, these threats could lead to bee extinction, causing global hunger and economic collapse.

How does the Pollinator Initiative help honeybee conservation?

The Pollinator Initiative collects data to understand how honeybees on federal facility rooftops can improve the health of plants not only on the rooftops but also in the surrounding areas. The program also identifies beneficial plants and landscapes for pollinators, enabling informed decisions regarding vegetation on building grounds.

What happens to the excess honey produced through the Pollinator Initiative?

The excess honey produced by honeybee colonies on federal facility rooftops is donated to local food banks. This ensures that the honey serves a beneficial purpose and contributes to supporting community needs.

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