The big­gest land grab, ever

How pro­vid­ing for the rusty patched bee comes at the ex­pense of hu­mans

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Paul Driessen

The Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil re­cently sued the Depart­ment of the In­te­rior for fail­ing to des­ig­nate “crit­i­cal habi­tat” for the “en­dan­gered” rusty patched bum­ble­bee, thereby re­duc­ing the bee’s chances of sur­vival. This is the lat­est of many En­dan­gered Species Act (ESA) law­suits and other ac­tions in­volv­ing in­sects and lead­ing to an eleventh-hour Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion en­dan­gered des­ig­na­tion for the rusty patched bee.

In­te­rior points out that ex­tremely lim­ited knowl­edge about the rusty patched bee makes crit­i­cal habi­tat de­ter­mi­na­tions im­pos­si­ble. The NRDC coun­ters that In­te­rior must des­ig­nate habi­tats based on “best avail­able ev­i­dence.”

How­ever, that in­for­ma­tion is so in­ad­e­quate, con­jec­tural, false or fal­si­fied that it must not be used to jus­tify the as­tound­ing po­ten­tial im­pacts of rusty patched bee habi­tat des­ig­na­tions.

The liti­gious groups claim the rusty patched bum­ble­bee was “once com­mon” in many North­east­ern and Mid­west­ern states. How­ever, dur­ing that “his­toric” era, bees and other in­sects were stud­ied for tax­o­nomic pur­poses — not to assess species’ di­ver­sity and pop­u­la­tions. So no one knows how many there used to be, or where.

The groups also claim rusty patched bee pop­u­la­tions de­clined rapidly be­gin­ning in the mid-1990s, be­cause of

Most wild bees never even come into con­tact with crops or the pes­ti­cides that sup­pos­edly harm them.

habi­tat loss, dis­ease, cli­mate change and es­pe­cially the use of crop-pro­tec­tion pes­ti­cides. That’s another con­ve­nient re­vi­sion of his­tory.

Not long ago, even the Xerces So­ci­ety for In­ver­te­brate Con­ser­va­tion said RPB de­cline was due to habi­tat loss and mul­ti­ple dis­eases that spread from do­mes­ti­cated hon­ey­bees to wild bees.

“The ex­act cause for the loss of the rusty patched is un­clear,” says Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor T’ai Roul­ston. “But it’s al­most cer­tainly re­lated to dis­ease,” es­pe­cially a fun­gal gut par­a­site that “can shorten the lives of worker bees and dis­rupt mat­ing suc­cess and sur­vival of queens and males.”

Habi­tat loss is clearly another fac­tor. Over the past half­cen­tury, cities and sub­urbs ex­panded, and farm­ers in­creas­ingly em­pha­sized large-scale mono­cul­ture crops like corn and canola for food and bio­fu­els. That re­duced un­der­ground RPB nest­ing sites and the va­ri­eties of flow­ers that wild bees pre­fer.

Mr. Obama’s Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice ig­nored these facts, ar­bi­trar­ily down­played its ear­lier dis­ease and habi­tat loss ex­pla­na­tions, and be­gan blam­ing pes­ti­cides, es­pe­cially ad­vanced-tech­nol­ogy neon­i­coti­noid pes­ti­cides, which have be­come a scape­goat for wild bee health prob­lems.

Lit­tle ev­i­dence sup­ports the pes­ti­cide claims, and much re­futes them.

For ex­am­ple, a wide-rang­ing in­ter­na­tional study of wild bees, pub­lished in Na­ture, found that only 2 per­cent of wild bee species are re­spon­si­ble for 80 per­cent of all crop vis­its. Most wild bees never even come into con­tact with crops or the pes­ti­cides that sup­pos­edly harm them.

Even more com­pelling, the Na­ture study de­ter­mined that the 2 per­cent of wild bees that do visit crops — and so would be most ex­posed to pes­ti­cides — are among the health­i­est bee species on Earth.

Other stud­ies found that neonic residues are well be­low lev­els that can ad­versely af­fect bee de­vel­op­ment or re­pro­duc­tion. That’s be­cause coat­ing seeds en­sures that neonic pes­ti­cides are ab­sorbed into plant tis­sues — and thus tar­get only pests that ac­tu­ally feed on the crops.

None of these facts will mat­ter, how­ever, once the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice starts des­ig­nat­ing the rusty patched crit­i­cal habi­tats. The agency and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists will be able to de­lay, block or bank­rupt any pro­posed or on­go­ing project or ac­tiv­ity within a habi­tat if they think it might po­ten­tially harm the bee: From build­ing new homes or hos­pi­tals, to lay­ing new pipe­lines or im­prov­ing roads and bridges — to say­ing when, where or if a farmer can plow fields, plant crops or use pes­ti­cides.

Make no mis­take, the po­ten­tial ge­o­graphic reach of these crit­i­cal habi­tat des­ig­na­tions is enor­mous.

The Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice has said rusty patched bum­ble­bees are likely to be found “in scat­tered lo­ca­tions that cover only 0.1% of the species’ his­tor­i­cal range.” How­ever, 0.1 per­cent of the pre­sumed his­tor­i­cal range is nearly 4 mil­lion acres — equiv­a­lent to Con­necti­cut plus Rhode Is­land.

Worse, that acreage is widely dis­persed in itty-bitty parcels across 13 states, where am­a­teur en­to­mol­o­gists have sup­pos­edly spot­ted rusty patched bum­ble­bees since 2000. That’s some 380 mil­lion acres: 15 times the size of Vir­ginia.

No one knows just where those parcels might be — en­abling en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and govern­ment agen­cies to halt projects while large ar­eas are care­fully ex­am­ined for signs of rusty patched bum­ble­bees.

More omi­nously, anti-pes­ti­cide and other en­vi­ron­men­tal groups want yel­low­banded, west­ern and Franklin’s bum­ble­bees des­ig­nated as en­dan­gered. These species were sup­pos­edly once found in tiny ar­eas scat­tered over a bil­lion acres in 40 states. Rad­i­cal greens also want bee­tles and other bugs des­ig­nated as en­dan­gered.

The ul­ti­mate ef­fect — if not their in­tent — would be to let those rad­i­cals use “threat­ened or en­dan­gered” in­sects to de­lay or veto count­less projects and ac­tiv­i­ties across nearly the en­tire United States.

All this un­der­scores why the En­dan­gered Species Act must be re­vised. It’s also why en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and their al­lies will battle any changes tooth and nail.

The U.S. Supreme Court re­cently ruled 8-0 that the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice could not use the ESA to com­pel landown­ers to cre­ate habi­tat at their own ex­pense, and forego fu­ture eco­nomic use of their pri­vate prop­erty, in or­der to ex­pand an en­dan­gered frog’s range.

The court and In­te­rior Depart­ment should now bring fur­ther bal­ance and san­ity to the act, to en­sure that con­flict­ing and com­pet­ing needs are ex­am­ined and bal­anced — fully, care­fully and hon­estly.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH

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