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USDA to award $8 million for bee habitats

WASHINGTON -- The No. 1 state for honey production is about to get a big boost from the federal government to stop honey bee populations from free-falling to historic lows.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide $8 million in Conservation Reserve Program incentives for honey bee habitat creation for five states, including North Dakota.

The initiative is designed to further enhance current Conservation Reserve Program land, allowing it to provide better access to nutritious plant materials eaten by pollinators, like honey bees. The program, administered by the Farm Service Agency, allows for managing or replacing existing vegetation with lower cost.

Diseases, parasites, pesticides or habitat loss have contributed to a significant decline in the honey bee population, said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in an announcement.

The number of nationally managed honey bee colonies has dropped from 6 million in 1947, to just 2.5 million today, according to the USDA.

This week, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum asking government agencies to take additional steps to protect and restore domestic populations of pollinators, according to the USDA.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said in a statement that North Dakota in 2012 produced over 34 million pounds of honey valued at more than $64 million.

“North Dakota producers know how important it is to have a healthy population of pollinators,” Cramer said.

South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan will also receive aid.