Buzz kill: Bum­ble­bee listed as en­dan­gered for first time

Dra­matic de­cline in num­bers is a risk to food sup­ply, ecol­ogy

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Doyle Rice @ us­ato­day­weather USA TO­DAY

A bum­ble­bee is now on the en­dan­gered species list for the first time in a “race against ex­tinc­tion,” the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service an­nounced Tues­day.

The agency placed the rusty patched bum­ble­bee on the list be­cause of a dra­matic pop­u­la­tion de­cline over the past 20 years. Since the late 1990s, the pop­u­la­tion of the species has plum­meted 87%.

Named be­cause of the rust- col­ored marks on its back, the bee once was com­mon and abun­dant across 28 states from Con­necti­cut to South Dakota. To­day, the bee is only found in small, scat­tered pop­u­la­tions in 13 states.

“Our top pri­or­ity is to act quickly to pre­vent ex­tinc­tion of the rusty patched bum­ble­bee,” wildlife service Mid­west re­gional di­rec­tor Tom Melius said in a state­ment. “List­ing the bee as en­dan­gered will help us mo­bi­lize part­ners and fo­cus re­sources on find­ing ways right now to stop the de­cline.”

Bees are re­spon­si­ble for pol­li­nat­ing most of the plants that re­quire in­sect pol­li­na­tion to pro­duce fruits, seeds and nuts. Like other bees, rusty patched bum­ble­bees pol­li­nate im­por­tant crops such as toma­toes, cran­ber­ries and pep­pers.

It’s not just the rusty patched bum­ble­bee that is strug­gling in the U. S. Other species have ex­pe­ri­enced dra­matic de­clines in re­cent decades. The re­duc­tion is be­lieved to be caused by a com­bi­na­tion of habi­tat loss, dis­ease, pes­ti­cide use, cli­mate change and an ex­tremely small pop­u­la­tion size.

The en­dan­gered des­ig­na­tion is made by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act for species at risk of be­com­ing ex­tinct through­out all or a por­tion of their range.

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups praised the des­ig­na­tion, in­clud­ing the group that orig­i­nally pe­ti­tioned for the list­ing in 2013, the Xerces So­ci­ety for In­ver­te­brate Con­ser­va­tion: “We are very pleased to see one of North Amer­ica’s most im­per­iled species re­ceive the pro­tec­tion it needs,” said Sa­rina Jepsen, di­rec­tor of en- dan­gered species for the group.

En­vi­ron­ment Amer­ica’s Christy Leav­itt said that “pro­tect­ing the rusty patched bum­ble­bee and all bees is es­sen­tial for our ecosys­tem and our food sup­ply. If bees go ex­tinct, it’s sim­ple: no bees, no food,” she added.

“To­day’s En­dan­gered Species list­ing is the best — and prob­a­bly last — hope for the re­cov­ery of the rusty patched bum­ble­bee,” said Re­becca Ri­ley, an at­tor­ney with the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil. “Bum­ble­bees are dy­ing off, van­ish­ing from our farms, gar­dens, and parks, where they were once found in great num­bers.”

Peo­ple can help boost the rusty patched bum­ble­bee pop­u­la­tion by grow­ing a gar­den or adding a na­tive flow­er­ing tree or shrub to yards and min­i­miz­ing pes­ti­cide use, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. Leav­ing some ar­eas of the yard un­mowed in sum­mer and un­raked in fall can also help since bum­ble­bees need a safe place to build their nests and over­win­ter. Ad­di­tion­ally, try leav­ing some stand­ing plant stems in gar­dens and flower beds in win­ter.

This is the first bee of any type in the con­ti­nen­tal U. S. to be placed on the list. In Septem­ber, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion des­ig­nated seven species of bees in Hawaii as en­dan­gered.

DAN MULLEN, U. S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE MID­WEST RE­GION

Rusty patched bum­ble­bee pop­u­la­tion has dropped by 87% since the late 1990s

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