Environmentalists are taking legal action to get endangered species protection for a little bumble bee that they believe is facing certain extinction and is in need of immediate help.
The rusty patched bumble bee, which can be identified by a rust-colored patch on its abdomen, was once a commonly seen pollinator from the midwest to the east coast, but scientists believe that it has has disappeared from 87 percent of its historic range and that its population has declined by a startling 95 percent.
Last year the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation filed a petition seeking to have the bumble bee listed as an endangered species, but got no response from the Department of the Interior, which is required to respond within 90 days. Now the organization, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), is suing the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to get the bee listed.
“This once-common bee has nearly disappeared in the past decade and a half,” said Sarina Jepsen, Endangered Species program director at the Xerces Society. “The few remaining populations are isolated and likely to go extinct without protection under the Endangered Species Act.”
If this bumble bee disappeared, it wouldn’t just be a sad loss, but really bad news for a world that depends on pollinators. According to the Xerces Society, services that native pollinators provide American farmers are estimated at $3 billion annually. However, they also pollinate a wide variety of wild plants that other species depend on for survival.
Unfortunately, bumble bees, who are now listed as imperiled on the Xerces Society’s Red List of Pollinator Insects of North America, continue to face a number of threats that range from habitat loss and fragmentation, livestock grazing, climate change, a loss of genetic diversity, pathogens and parasites, competition with commercial bumble bees and honey bees and the widespread use of pesticides and herbicides.
The Xerces Society argued in its petition that each of those alone poses a significant threat, and that combined they “present a daunting case for the recovery of this animal.” While these bees are listed as a Species of Special Concern in Wisconsin, Michigan and Connecticut, there are no regulations there, or anywhere else in the U.S., to ensure that bumble bees and their habitat are protected.
While the lawsuit plays out, there are steps we can take to help bumble bees and other pollinators survive. A few of the things we can do at home include:
- Planting native wildflowers, herbs and flowering trees and include plants that flower successively from spring through fall. For a list of native and bee-friendly plants, check out the The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, the Xerces Society’s guide to attracting native pollinators and guide to conserving bumble bees.
- Providing bee habitats – Bumble bees can make a home in a number of places from unused animal burrows to dead trees. If you’re up for a DIY project, the Xerces Society also offers a guide to building bee boxes for native bees.
- Ditching pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals you may use in your yard and garden.
- Leaving the weeds – Dandelion, clover and goldenrod, among other plants, might be considered unsightly by some, but they provide a valuable food source for pollinators.
- Becoming a citizen scientist – If you want to help scientists track bumble bees across across North America, visit Bumble Bee Watch.
Photo credit: Dan Mullen