‘Small But Mighty’ Bumblebee Added to Endangered Species List
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has placed the rusty patched bumblebee on the endangered species list this week, making it the first species of bee to ever be considered endangered in the continental US.
“Pollinators are small but mighty parts of the natural mechanism that sustains us and our world,” said Tom Melius, Midwest US Fish and Wildlife Service director. “Without them, our forests, parks, meadows and shrub lands, and the abundant, vibrant life they support, cannot survive, and our crops require laborious, costly pollination by hand.”
Measures for protecting the bumblebee, including a plan for recovery at the federal level, will go into effect Feb. 10. States with habitats where the few remaining bees reside are able to apply for federal funding according to the plan.
The rusty patched bumblebee joins the ranks of 300 other animal species that Obama added to the endangered list while in office.
With its visibly furry patches of yellow-orange and black, Bombus affinis, as it’s officially named, is the fluffy pollinator of childhood drawings. However, their numbers have been in decline for years.
Nearly 90% of the bee’s population have dropped off from the 31 states and Canadian provinces where it was previously common in the 1990s. Canada took steps to protect the species in 2012, and as Obama leaves office, the US is finally following suit.
Bumblebees, in general, are essential pollinators for crops such as cranberries, blueberries, clover, and tomatoes.
"Without pollinators, many of us would no longer be able to enjoy coffee, chocolate and apples, among many other foods that are part of our daily lives," said Simon Potts, a Professor of Biodiversity at the University of Reading, in the UK.
Globally, 75% of food crops rely partially on pollinator species. Habitat loss, disease, and climate change are large factors in the decline of the 40% of invertebrate pollinator species facing extinction in coming years according to IPBES, an IGO that assess biodiversity.
Another major contributor to the decline of bumblebees, specifically in the US, is the use of pesticides in the category of neonicotinoids. Absorbed by plants, and present in pollen, neonicotinoids can be lethal to bees.
It’s going to be an uphill battle for the bees. Trump’s picks for EPA positions, Myron Ebell and Scott Pruitt, do not support the same regulations and ban on neonicotinoids as the Obama administration.
However, there’s more good news than bad. Undoing an endangered species protection can take years to process, meaning the bees will be safe for quite a while. Bumblebees are worth an estimated $3 billion annually — a strong economic incentive to keep our fuzzy friends buzzing. Finally, everyday citizens can take measure to protect bees with actions as simple as growing native flowers from spring to fall.