Bee health flourishes at federal facilities across the country

CONCORD, NH (AP) — While judges, lawyers and support staff at the federal courthouse in Concord, New Hampshire keep America’s judicial system running, thousands of humble honey bees on the roof of the building are doing their part in a most important task: feeding the world.

The Warren B. Rudman Courthouse is one of several federal facilities across the country participating in the General Services Administration’s Pollinator Initiative, a government program designed to assess and promote the health of bees and other pollinators, which are critical to Life on earth.

“Anyone who eats food needs bees,” said Noah Wilson-Rich, co-founder, chief executive officer and chief scientific officer of the Boston-based company Best Bees, which contracts with the government to care for bee hives at the New Hampshire courthouse. and in some other federal buildings.

Bees help pollinate the fruits and vegetables that sustain humans, he said. They pollinate hay and alfalfa, which feed the cattle that provide the meat we eat. And they favor the health of plants that, through photosynthesis, give us clean air to breathe.

However, the busy insects that contribute an estimated $25 billion to the US economy annually are threatened by diseases, agricultural chemicals, and habitat loss that kill about half of all bee hives annually. . Without human intervention, including beekeepers creating new hives, the world could experience a bee extinction that would lead to global famine and economic collapse, Wilson-Rich said.

The pollinator program is part of the federal government’s commitment to promoting sustainability, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting climate-resilient infrastructure, said David Johnson, sustainability program manager for the General Services Administration. for New England.

The administration’s program began last year with hives at 11 sites.

Some of those sites are no longer in the program. Beehives placed in the National Archives building in Waltham, Massachusetts, last year did not survive the winter.

Since then, other sites have been added. Two hives, each containing thousands of bees, were placed on the roof of the Rudman Building in March.

The program is collecting data to find out if bees, which can fly 5 to 8 kilometers (3 to 5 miles) from the roof in their search for pollen, can help not only the health of roof plants, but also the flora throughout the area, Johnson said.

“Bees are actually very opportunistic,” he said. “They will feed on many different types of plants.”

The program can help identify plants and landscapes that are beneficial to pollinators and help government make more informed decisions about which trees and flowers to plant on construction sites.

Best Bees tests for plant DNA in honey to get a sense of the diversity and health of plants in the area, Wilson-Rich said, finding that bees fed a more diverse diet seem to do better. of survival and productivity.

Other federal facilities with hives include the headquarters of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in Baltimore; the federal courthouse in Hammond, Indiana; the Federal Archives Records Center in Chicago; and the Denver Federal Center.

The federal government is not alone in its efforts to save bees. The hives placed at federal sites are part of a larger network of approximately 1,000 hives in home gardens, businesses and institutions across the country that, combined, can help determine what helps bees, what hurts them and why.

The General Services Administration’s Pollinator Initiative also seeks to identify ways to keep the bee population healthy and vibrant and model those lessons on other properties, both government and private, said Amber Levofsky, senior program adviser for the Urban Development Center of the administration.

“The goal of this initiative was really meant to collect location-based data on facilities to help update directives and policies to help facility managers really focus on pollinator protection and environmental management. habitat at the regional level,” he said.

And there’s another benefit to the government’s honey bee program that has already paid off: Excess honey that’s produced is donated to area food banks.