The American bumblebee is buzzing its way toward the Endangered Species Act, according to officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Once common across the country, the bee, an essential pollinator, has seen its numbers plummet nearly 90 percent in the past two decades, thanks to habitat destruction, pesticides, competition with honeybees and climate change.
It has also completely vanished from eight states, notably across the Northeast.
The bumblebee is a highly adaptable generalist that pollinates a wide variety of plants, wildflowers, and crops, ranging from tomatoes and peppers to strawberries and melons.
However, it’s not currently protected under any state or federal endangered species statutes.
After reviewing a petition submitted in February, officials with the FWS said adding the insect as a ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered’ species under the 1973 act ‘may be warranted’ and they promised to address the issue in a 12-month finding.
Because the American bumblebee is so sensitive to environmental changes, such a designation could mean major regulatory changes for numerous industries, including agriculture, real estate and even renewable energy.
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After reviewing a petition to add the American bumblebee as an endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday such protections ‘may be warranted.’ It will make a final determination after a further 12-month study
In a memo published on Wednesday in the Federal Register, the FWS said a 90-day review indicated the American bumblebee (Latin name Bombus pensylvanicus) was among three animals that merited further study for admission to the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants, along with the Siuslaw hairy-necked tiger beetle and Long Valley speckled dace, a member of the minnow family.
A request to further consider the Tucson shovel-nosed snake was declined.
Keith Hirokawa, an environmental law professor at Albany Law School, told Bloomberg Law that the implications for adding the bee to the list ‘could be really significant.’
‘A far-reaching solution would be a fundamental change in the way we build our agricultural operations,’ said Hirokawa, whose students partnered with the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity on the petition.
While the American bumblebee once thrived in 47 of the 48 continental states, its populations have declined an average of 89 percent nationwide in the last 20 years. They’ve completely vanished from at least eight states since the turn of the century, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, mostly in the Northeast
It calls for the bee to be listed as an endangered species, with ‘critical habitat’ designated for its protection.
The American bumblebee is one of the most important and diverse pollinators in North America.
While the bug once thrived in 47 of the 48 continental states, its populations have declined 89 percent nationwide since 2002.
They’ve completely vanished from at least eight states since then, according to the Center: Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming.
In New York State, the bumblebee population has dropped 99 percent—and regions in the Southeast and Midwest have seen declines of over 50 percent.
B. pensylvanicus ‘continues to decline toward extinction due to the disastrous, synergistic impacts of threats’ the Center warned — including habitat destruction, intensifying agriculture, pesticides, mites and disease, climate change, competition with honey bees and loss of genetic diversity.
‘Its loss will have considerable consequences to whole ecosystems and to crop production,’ the group added.
States that have seen some of the largest declines in bee populations are the same states that have seen the largest quantified increase in pesticide use, the Center said, so protecting the bees would likely require new limits on their use.
Multiple studies have indicated chemical pesticides sprayed on agricultural fields disrupt the bees’ homing systems, causing them to get disoriented and die.
Declines in bumblebee populations have been linked to increased use of pesticides. If the bee is added to the Endangered Species List it will trigger increased regulation of pesticide use
While state and local governments across the country are pushing hard for renewable energy projects in their districts, developers who accidentally kill bees could be exposed to legal liability if the bug was placed under the aegis of the ESA, Brooke Marcus, a natural resources lawyer at Nossaman LLP in Austin, told Bloomberg.
It would all depend on how the FWS defined the bee’s habitat and how it regulated accidental or permitted deaths.
‘At this early stage, we can’t speculate on potential impacts of listing on land use, pesticide use, etc.,’ Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Georgia Parham told Bloomberg.
‘An understanding of potential impacts of listing will depend on our 12-month finding, in which we determine whether listing is warranted.’
The rusty-patched bumble bee became the first apian in the continental U.S. added to the list of endangered species in 2017.
In August, the FWS added another bumblebee to the endangered species list, the rare Franklin’s bumblebee, which hasn’t been observed since 2007.
Also on Wednesday, the FWS declared 23 native animals and plants officially extinct, including the Bachman’s warbler, San Marcos gambusia and the ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird last seen in 1944.
In June, the White House announced plans to strengthen the ESA after rollbacks were instituted during the Trump administration.
‘This is a decisive move toward undoing the damage done by the previous administration to the bedrock law that protects endangered and threatened animal species and their habitat,’ Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said in a statement at the time.
‘Among other steps, federal agencies under the previous administration made it more difficult to grant and maintain protections for species facing extinction and created carve-outs catering to both state and special interests that privileged profits and economic development over the survival of imperiled wildlife,’ Amundson added. ‘Things are not supposed to work that way when it comes to ESA protections.’
Among other initiatives, the Department of the Interior under President Biden has reinstated a longstanding policy extending protections to species listed under the ESA as ‘threatened,’ including from being trapped, shot, harassed or otherwise harmed.
From woodpeckers to mussels: The 23 American species officially declared extinct
Ivory-billed woodpecker – last seen in northwest Louisiana, 1944.
Bachman’s warbler – last seen in Louisiana, 1988.
Kauai O’o – last seen in its native Hawaii in 1985, last recording of its song made in 1987.
Kauai akialoa – last seen in Hawaii, 1969.
Kauai nukupuu – last seen in Hawaii, 1899.
Maui nukupuʻu – last seen in Hawaii, 1998.
Maui akepa – last seen in Hawaii, 1988.
San Marcos gambusia – last seen in Texas, 1983.
Tubercled-blossom pearly mussel– last sample was found dead in Kanawha Falls, West Virginia, 1969.
Bridled white-eye – last seen in its native Guam, 1983.
Large Kauai thrush – last seen in Hawaii, 1987.
Molokai creeper – last seen in Hawaii, 1963.
Po’ouli – last seen in Hawaii, 2004.
Little Mariana fruit bat – last seen in Guam, 1968.
Southern acornshell – native to Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, last seen in 1973.
Stirrupshell – native to Alabama and Mississippi – last seen in 1986.
Turgid-blossom pearly mussel – native to Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee – last seen in 1972.
Upland combshell – native to Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee – last seen in the 1980s.
Yellow-blossom pearly mussel – native to Alabama and Tennessee – last seen in the 1980s.
Flat pigtoe – native to Alabama and Mississippi – last seen in 1984.
Green-blossom pearly mussel – native to Tennessee – last seen in 1982.
Scioto madtom – last seen in Ohio in 1957.
Phyllostegia glabra var. lanaiensis – last seen in Hawaii in 1914.