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A Bee on the Endangered Species List? Not Quite Yet

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

By Sarah Everhart

Bee on a flower (Photo Credit Edwin Remsberg (the author does not profess that the bee pictured is a rusty patch bumble bee)).

On January 11, 2017, a bumble bee in the continental United States, specifically the rusty patch bumble bee, was proposed for listing on the Endangered Species List for the first time (82 FR 10285). The listing was to be effective on February 10, 2017. On February 10, however, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published notice in the Federal Register delaying the effective date of the listing to March 21, 2017. According to the notice, the delay is the result of the January 20, 2017, Memorandum from the White House instructing all federal agencies to postpone the effective date of any regulations not yet in effect for 60 days for the purpose of “reviewing questions of fact, law, and policy they raise.”

To be listed as “endangered,” a species has to be in danger of becoming extinct throughout all or a portion of their habitat. The rusty patch bumble bee is an important pollinator of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and clover and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes. According to the FWS, the rusty patch bumble which just 20 years ago was abundant across 28 states from Connecticut to South Dakota and into Canada, has suffered a population crash and is near extinction. Since 2000, the bee has only been spotted in small, scattered populations in 13 states, including Maryland. The population decline of the bee is attributed to a combination of factors including habitat loss and degradation, disease, intensive farming, pesticides, and global climate change. To learn more efforts to preserve pollinators, read this past post.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) was not supportive of the rusty patch bumble bee being listed on the endangered species list. According to AFBF, the Endangered Species listing is not effective in protecting species from extinction and requires regulatory reform. The AFBF feels “…farmers are often restricted from fully utilizing their land due to the Endangered Species Act’s strict regulations when endangered species or critical habitat are present” and these regulations “….jeopardize the overall agriculture economy.”

On February 14, 2017 the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York City asking the court to stop the Department of the Interior and FWS from delaying the bumble bee listing.

If you are interested in things you can do to help pollinators, see the tips at the end of this FWS factsheet.

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