Skip to main content

California Court Case: Protection of Insects under the California Endangered Species Act

By Sarina Jepsen & Scott Black on 8. February 2021
Sarina Jepsen & Scott Black

The Xerces Society and our conservation partners at Defenders of Wildlife and Center for Food Safety, represented by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, appealed a recent court decision that determined that the California Fish and Game Commission lacks authority to list four bumble bee species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). The Fish and Game Commission also filed an appeal to challenge the court’s ruling.


A yellow and black bumble bee drinks nectar from pale pink flowers of milkweed
Crotch’s bumble bee (Bombus crotchii) is one of the four species were are fighting for in California. (Photo: Xerces Society / Stephanie McKnight.)


This case follows a petition that Xerces and partners submitted in 2018 to protect the western, Crotch’s, Suckley cuckoo and Franklin’s bumble bees under CESA. These bumble bees are at risk of extinction in the state. When the Fish and Game Commission granted these four bumble bee species candidate status, several large agricultural groups in California sued and the Xerces Society intervened in the lawsuit to support the Commission. The language of the California Endangered Species Act clearly allows insects to be protected—but the bigger issue is that California cannot maintain its biodiversity without being able to protect three quarters of the species in the state. If this Superior Court ruling is upheld it will hurt both agriculture and the native ecosystems that make California unique.

Insects make up more than 75 percent of species on the planet and excluding them from protection under CESA will prevent California from sustaining its wildlife. In addition to providing pollination and pest control for important food crops, insects are vital for the functioning of California’s native ecosystems. They pollinate plants in wild areas, which in turn produce fruits and seeds eaten by birds, small mammals and other animals. Insects themselves are important food sources for many other animals—from fish to reptiles, amphibians to songbirds. Without protecting a diversity of native insects, we will not have healthy food to eat, songbirds in our yards, or fish in our streams.


Further Reading

Petition: List Four Bumble Bees as Endangered under the California Endangered Species Act (10/16/18)

Blog: Court Decision Undermines the State of California’s Ability to Protect Insects Under its Endangered Species Act (11/20/20)

Media release: Conservationists and California Fish and Game Commission Pursue Appeal to Ensure Legal Protections for Imperiled Bumble Bees (2/8/21)


Sarina directs the Xerces Society’s Endangered Species and Aquatic Program. Since joining the Society in 2006, Sarina has worked on the conservation of diverse at-risk North American invertebrate species, including bees, butterflies, beetles, and freshwater mussels. Sarina has authored multiple publications on the conservation of endangered pollinators and other at-risk species, and developed management guidance for federal agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service.
Scott Black is an internationally renowned conservationist who has been at the forefront of the conservation movement for three decades. Scott’s work has led to protection and restoration of habitat on millions of acres of rangelands, forests, and farmland as well as protection for many endangered species. He is an author of the best-selling Attracting Native Pollinators and Gardening for Butterflies and has written more than two hundred other publications including a recent chapter on climate change and insects. Scott serves on the science advisory committee of Nature-Based Climate Solutions, which brings together stakeholders to accelerate the implementation of carbon removal strategies that simultaneously improve the social, economic, and environmental resilience of local communities.

Your Support Makes a Difference!

Xerces’ conservation work is powered by our donors. Your tax-deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.