‘Fake news’ debate buzzes even in bee stories

The bumblebee’s role in crop pollination and its importance to farmers apparently isn’t so defined after all.

News stories were published locally and nationally in the last few weeks showing problems that are arising from dwindling bumblebee numbers. Specifically, the rusty patched bumble bee is being considered for placement on the endangered species list to help keep it viable for the sake of the farmer, it was reported.

But apparently not all farmers agree with the move, and in fact, the American Farm Bureau Federation opposed listing the bumblebee as endangered, saying it could lead to costly limits on land or chemical use and that private partnerships could more effectively preserve bee habitat.

This creates interesting debate over the rule adopted Jan. 11 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granting federal protection to the rusty patched bumblebee. The bee is one of many types of bees that play a vital role in pollinating crops and wild plants. This specific bumblebee once was common across the East Coast and much of the Midwest, but its numbers have plummeted since the late 1990s. Bumblebees are essential pollinators of about a third of U.S. crops, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which petitioned the government for protection of the insect.

The bee’s endangered species designation will be delayed at least another month after the Trump administration on Thursday extended the 30-day waiting period by another 30 days until mid-March. The White House said the delay was enacted to allow time to review “questions of fact, law and policy they raise.”

So far, it doesn’t appear the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is getting too worked up over the delay. In fact, Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director Gary Frazer said the move was not expected to impact conservation efforts. The federal agency still “is developing a recovery plan to guide efforts to bring this species back to a healthy and secure condition,” Frazer said.

Other environmentalists aren’t as comfortable.

“The Trump administration has put the rusty patched bumblebee back on the path to extinction,” said Rebecca Riley, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But the American Farm Bureau is viewing the delay in a whole different way.

“We’re excited that the administration is taking a second look,” said Ryan Yates, director of congressional regulations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Then there’s the Pollinator Stewardship Council, a national lobbyist for the bee industry, that is emphasizing it does not want to ban pesticides for farmers but urges good stewardship between beekeepers and farmers.

Now, I certainly am no bee or crop expert, and I don’t even hope to know what is the right answer about the future of the rusty patched bumblebee. I do highly doubt that anyone would condone action to intentionally contribute to extinction of any species.

Whatever the outcome, though, I find this whole debate of great interest.

That’s largely because news coverage of it brings me back to the drum I am constantly beating with my newsroom staff. That is about the need for strong, fair and balanced reporting. It is the job of all reputable media to explore all sides of every issue. I must admit the media may have fallen short in this instance because we all seemed to be convinced that bumblebees are crucial to farming (and they may be). But now we see that apparently not all farmers share that sentiment.

Everything in life is fuel for debate, so when the media is involved in coverage of these debates, we must dig hard to present all sides.

Only complete, fair and balanced reporting will help renew trust among readers and prove to the public that buzz words like “fake news” simply don’t fit with ethical news outlets like the Tribune Chronicle, even when it comes to bumblebees.