Nonprofit Helps Win Bee Species Endangered Status

Prairie wildflowers, cranberries, apples, and other crops are feeling the sting of the rusty patched bumble bee’s declining population. To help the species recover, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated it endangered, thanks to the work of a conservation nonprofit.

Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) added the rusty patched bumble bee to the endangered species list, a decision based on a petition from the Xerces Society, a conservation nonprofit focused on invertebrates.

“We believe federal protection under the Endangered Species Act was essential for the existence of this species,” the Xerces Society’s Senior Conservation Biologist Rich Hatfield told Associations Now. “It now gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the authority to regulate anything which might bring harm to this particular species.”

This bumble bee, which once spanned 28 states and several Canadian providences, has disappeared from about 90 percent of its range, Hatfield explained. And while USFWS has yet to decide how to specifically help the species recover, it will likely include regulations on pesticides, agriculture, habitat fragmentation, and the commercial bee industry.

“We are very pleased to see one of North America’s most endangered species receive the protection it needs,” Director of Endangered Species Sarina Jepsen said in a press release. “Now that the Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered, it stands a chance of surviving the many threats it faces—from the use of neonicotinoid pesticides to diseases.”

The Xerces Society began investigating the disappearance of the rusty patched bumble bee about a decade ago with a citizen science project, which solicited photos of the species from people in its historic range to determine where the bee still lived. Coinciding with this project, a separate scientific paper found that the species’ range had shrunk by 87 percent.

But the process of securing the bumble bee’s place on the endangered species list wasn’t always smooth. In January 2013, the Society submitted a petition to add the species to the list. However, by February 2014, USFWS had not yet responded whether the petition warranted a full review, despite a 90-day requirement, prompting the Xerces Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council to threaten a lawsuit.

Following a settlement, USFWS decided in September 2015 to conduct a full review, and a year later proposed giving the bee endangered status.

While awaiting USFWS’ decision, the Society also worked with a National Geographic photographer on a film, A Ghost in the Making: Searching for the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, and gathered 128,000 signatures on another petition asking USFWS to consider the species endangered to draw attention to the bee’s plight.

“We have already seen incredible leadership from the agricultural community in restoring and protecting hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat for the rusty patched bumble bee and other native pollinators,” Pollinator Program Co-Director Eric Lee-Mäder said in the statement. “Providing a landscape that sustains all of our native bees will require continued investment by public agencies, as well as efforts from private residents in both urban and rural areas.”

In October, the Xerces Society also won endangered status for seven yellow-faced bee species native to Hawaii; and currently, the Society is waiting on a USFWS response on adding the Franklin’s Bumble Bee to the endangered species list.

The rusty patched bumble bee, shown in Minnesota. (Sarina Jepsen/The Xerces Society)

Alex Beall

By Alex Beall

Alex Beall is an associate editor for Associations Now with a masters in journalism and a penchant for Instagram. MORE

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