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A Bee on the Endangered Species List? Yes!

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

By Sarah Everhart

Bee on a flower. Photo Credit- Edwin Remsberg (just a bee pictured above not necessarily the rusty patch bumblebee)

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Back in February I wrote a post about the rusty patch bumble bee’s placement on the Endangered Species List. The bee was listed on January 11, 2017, and the listing would have been effective on February 10, 2017, but given the change in presidential administration, the effective date of the listing was delayed until March 21, 2017. There are many powerful industry groups opposed to the listing, and some wondered whether the listing would be finalized. The listing became effective as scheduled, however, on March 21, hopefully helping save an important species on the brink of extinction. But what will this mean for humans in and around the bee’s habitat?

Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act and its implementing regulations prohibit the “take” of animals listed as federally threatened or endangered. The Act defines take: “. . . to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” An incidental take is defined by the Act as “incidental to, and not the purpose of, the carrying out of an otherwise lawful activity.” Therefore, if a person conducts an activity such as land development which harms a listed species’ habitat, that action may be classified as an incidental take under the Endangered Species Act. However, it is possible to apply for and receive an incidental take permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to allow such actions to occur.

Because loss of habitat is the primary threat to an endangered species, once listed, the FWS designates critical habit for the species. Critical habitat is the specific areas within the geographic area, occupied by the species at the time it was listed, which contain the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of endangered and threatened species and may need special management or protection. Critical habitat may also include areas not occupied by the species at the time of listing but essential to its conservation.

According to FWS, the rusty patched bumble bee is likely to be present in scattered locations covering only about 0.1% of the species’ historical range. It is within this area that FWS recommends federal agencies and others consult FWS on the potential effects of their actions or the need for an incidental take permit. FWS has created an online map indicating areas of high potential for the bee’s habitat, and guidance documents, including the voluntary implementation guidance, providing details about how to conserve the species and meet Endangered Species Act regulatory requirements.

To read more about how the listing of the rusty patch bumblebee will be implemented check out the FWS website.

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