Feds say bee deaths jumped last year

More than 40 percent of the country’s bee colonies died over the last 12 months, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported on Wednesday, the second-highest death rate on record.

Winter bee deaths were down compared to the nine-year average, according to a report from USDA and the Apiary Inspectors of America, but it came with an uptick in the number of deaths that occurred during the summer months. The losses continue a years-long trend of bee deaths around the country. 

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In all, beekeepers surveyed said they lost 42.1 percent of their bee colonies between April 2014 and April 2014, a total topped only by 2012-13, when more than 45 percent of colonies died.

The dwindling bee population has become a major problem for environmentalists and the agriculture industry, where pollinators contribute $15 billion to the economy annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

“Losses of our pollinator populations have the potential to not only threaten agricultural production, but to also threaten natural plant communities and important services provided by ecosystems,” James Jones, the assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, told a House Agriculture panel in written testimony Wednesday. 

In 2013, EPA and the USDA released a report blaming bees' declining health on a combination of factors, including pests and parasites, poor nutrition and pesticides.

Jones said the agency has tried to rebuff bee deaths by regulating their exposure to certain types of pesticides and introducing products to protect them from parasites. The White House established a bee death task force in 2014 and Jones said it will release a strategy to deal with the problem “in the very near future.”