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Federal funding for pollinator health research includes $454K for OSU

Monarch butterfly
KTVZ file
Monarch butterfly

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will award $3.5 million in federal funding to support 10 Pollinator Health Research grants across the nation. One of those grants, for $454,939, will be awarded to Oregon State University.

The USDA estimates that approximately 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators for survival. Pollinators play an integral role on American farms and within America’s food supply chain, but have seen precipitous declines in recent years.

Experts estimate that the western monarch butterfly population has dropped 99 percent since the 1980s, and a recent federal government review of existing data showed that the western bumblebee population has declined by as much as 93 percent in the last two decades.

“Pollinator populations—like monarchs and honeybees—are sharply declining. Some are even on the brink of extinction,” said Merkley, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the USDA.

“If we lose these creatures that are so vital to a healthy ecosystem, we will lose a critically necessary feature of our planet and jeopardize our entire agricultural system and the food supply. Oregon State University’s important research will help us protect and maintain these critical species.”

“Research into the alarming drop-off in pollinators is crucial to learn what can and must be done to restore these species that play such an essential part in the food chain,” Wyden said. “I’m glad OSU has earned this grant to apply its nationally renowned scientific skills to this question that has significant implications for nature’s balance and our state’s agriculture.”

Oregon State University will use its NIFA grant to advance three long-term pollinator support goals: protecting bees from pesticide exposure and increasing habitat for bees on Oregon farms; reducing impacts of diseases and pests on honeybees; and completing an inventory of Oregon’s bees and creating a database of the species of plants they visit.

“Pollinator health in Oregon is truly driven by OSU Extension volunteers,” said Andony Melathopoulos, Assistant Professor Pollinator Health Extension for Oregon State University. “This grant will make critical investments in boosting the capacity of our Master Beekeepers to help train new beekeepers on managing diseases in their colonies. It also creates two new innovative Master certificate programs, the Master Melittologists, who survey the state’s bee fauna, and the Pollinator Stewards, which will train a wide range of land managers, from seed growers to golf course superintends, on how to promote pollinator health. This grant will ensure that Oregon remains one of the best places for bees in the U.S." 

Other recipients of NIFA’s Pollinator Health Research grants include the University of California, Riverside; Colorado State University; the University of Florida; Kansas State University; Louisiana State University; Bowling Green State University; Central State University; and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

Senator Merkley has kept a steady drumbeat on the urgent need to address declines in pollinator populations.

In 2019, he led a bipartisan group of senators in introducing the Monarch and Pollinator Highway (MPH) Act, which would establish a federal grant program available to state departments of transportation, federal land management agencies, and tribal nations to carry out pollinator-friendly practices on roadsides and highway rights-of-way.

This year, Senator Merkley introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat (MONARCH) Act, legislation that would authorize $125 million for projects aimed at conserving the struggling western monarch butterfly.

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