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Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Deserves Protection, Not Delay

By Rich Hatfield on 2. March 2017
Rich Hatfield

A one-year delay could tip the rusty patched bumble bee into extinction.

The rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) was slated to receive on February 10, 2017, the federal protection it so clearly deserves. Unfortunately, the executive order signed by President Donald Trump on inauguration day, freezing all new regulations while the new administration reviews “questions of fact, law, and policy,” has unnecessarily delayed the implementation of this rule until March 21, 2017—60 days after the executive order was signed. Now, a coalition of industry organizations including the American Petroleum Institute and CropLife America, has submitted a request to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke asking that the date be further delayed until January 11, 2018. This request is unfounded, and a one-year delay could tip the rusty patched bumble bee into extinction.

In the case of the Endangered Species Act and the rusty patched bumble bee, the law and the science are plain. According to the law, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), under authority of the Department of the Interior, must make an endangered species listing decision “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.” The scientific evidence for the decline of the rusty patched bumble bee is undeniable and has been reviewed by the USFWS, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and multiple independent peer-reviewed scientific studies. In short, there is scientific consensus that this species is critically endangered and agreement that current regulations are inadequate to protect this species and help it down the road to recovery.

Since the Xerces Society filed a petition in 2013 to have this species listed as endangered, it has been under consideration by the USFWS. The rule published by the USFWS in January of 2017 (along with associated documents) provided clear and convincing evidence that this species is in immediate danger of extinction and in need of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. For these reasons we remain confident and hopeful that when the new administration reviews this rule for questions of fact, law, and policy they will recognize the essential role that pollinators play in our food security, the obvious need of this species for endangered species protection, and the clear-cut purpose of the Endangered Species Act to provide those protections under United States law. As such, we see this announcement of a delay in accordance with President Trump’s executive order as just that, a delay.

In addition to scientific consensus, there has been vast public support for the listing decision. The USFWS received nearly 100,000 comments on the proposed listing during the public comment period—the vast majority of those were in enthusiastic support of the decision. Additionally, over 128,000 people signed a Xerces Society petition on to encourage the USFWS to add the rusty patched bumble bee to the Endangered Species Act.

Protections for the rusty patched bumble bee have already been delayed for more than four years. Any additional delay would further imperil this animal and could ultimately lead to its extinction. Extinction is forever, and to quote a friend of mine—Sam Droege, a biologist for the US Geological Survey—“bees are not optional.”


A bumble bee holds on to a group of small pale pink flowers on a single stem.
The rusty patched bumble bee in Minnesota, 2012. (Photo: Xerces Society / Sarina Jepsen.)




Rich manages all aspects of the Xerces Society’s work on bumble bees. Rich has a master’s degree in conservation biology from San Francisco State University, and he joined the Xerces Society in 2012. While earning his degree, his thesis focused on local- and landscape-level factors that contribute to bumble bee species richness and abundance. He has also investigated native bee pollination in agricultural systems in the Central Valley of California and researched endangered butterflies in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, as well as throughout the Pacific Northwest.

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