April 19, 2008
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The Trump administration has introduced changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that are truly disastrous for endangered pollinators and other wildlife. Unless a court issues an injunction, these new regulations (which can be read here, here, and here) will go into effect on September 26, and will make it much harder to protect and recover the animals that are struggling to survive and need our help the most.
The new rules were introduced under the guise of clarifying the implementation of the ESA, but in reality, they severely weaken a law that has been effectively used for decades to prevent wildlife from going extinct. The ESA works: it has prevented 99% of listed species from going extinct. These changes represent a clear win for industry and development, at the expense of our nation’s most vulnerable wildlife.
There are five main areas of concern arising from the new regulations:
Among the most concerning of the changes is one allowing for the use of economic analyses in making decisions regarding whether or not to list a species under the ESA. This is egregious, as the law itself clearly articulates that decisions should be based solely on the best available science, not on the cost of protecting a species. Allowing economic analyses in endangered species listing decisions could prevent any species from being ESA listed in the future, even if it clearly faces a high extinction risk. The cost of protection should not matter. All species deserve a place on the planet.
In the past, a species listed as threatened was given the same protections as an endangered species. This will no longer be the case should these rules take effect. The monarch butterfly—which the Xerces Society and conservation partners petitioned to be protected as a threatened species under the ESA in 2014—could ultimately be listed as threatened, but despite the fact that the western population has declined by more than 99% since the 1980s and the entire North American population is on an extinction trajectory, there would be no actual protection afforded to this iconic butterfly.
The new rules make it easier for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to not designate Critical Habitat (areas deemed essential for a listed species to recover), even though the intent of the ESA is to designate Critical Habitat for all listed species—with only very rare exceptions. Additionally, the rule will make it more difficult for the USFWS to designate Critical Habitat in areas that aren’t currently occupied by a species. Removing the need to designate Critical Habitat severely weakens one of the most important parts of the ESA: The requirement that a federal agency consults with the USFWS to ensure that any action the agency takes, funds, or authorizes does not destroy or adversely modify Critical Habitat.
Once a species is ESA listed, a recovery plan is developed—often with input from species experts—which guides conservation efforts. Traditionally, once recovery goals have been met, the species can be taken off of the ESA list. However, one of these new rules stipulates that a species’ recovery plan goals do not need to be met before the species is delisted. For example, the rusty patched bumble bee is our only ESA-listed bee in the continental U.S. A recovery plan is being developed for this species, but it could now be removed from the ESA list before it has actually recovered.
These new rules also make it much harder to protect species that are primarily impacted by climate change—a serious threat to the survival of so many species. For instance, if climate change is the sole threat to a species’ habitat, this new rule stipulates that this habitat should not be protected as Critical Habitat. Further, when making a decision to list a species, the USFWS needs to determine if it is likely to go extinct in the “foreseeable future”. One of the new rules defines “foreseeable future” in such a way that many of the impacts of climate change on a species could be ignored in a listing decision.
Some recent announcements relating to ESA protections makes one wonder if the new rules were already influencing decision-making. Just two weeks before the new regulations were published, the USFWS determined that the yellow-banded bumble bee should not be listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA despite a clear analysis by its own agency biologists indicating that the bumble bee has undergone a dramatic contraction in range which is likely to continue into the future. The yellow-banded bumble bee has already disappeared from Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia—more than half of the states where it used to live.
Further, in the states where the yellow-banded bumble bee remains, its occupancy and relative abundance are far lower than they were historically. Under all modeled scenarios, the USFWS found that this bee has very low resiliency in the future across most of its range. The current condition and future trajectory of this bee illustrates the very reason that the Endangered Species Act was written in the first place: to prevent species from going extinct. If we let the condition of imperiled species get so close to extinction before they receive protection, how can we ever expect them to recover?
Similarly, USFWS recently proposed listing Franklin’s bumble bee—responding to a petition Dr. Robbin Thorp and the Xerces Society filed in 2010—but failed to designate Critical Habitat. Though the most significant threats to Franklin’s bumble bees include disease from managed bees, pesticide use (in particular the systemic neonicotinoid pesticides), and a small population size, identifying and protecting this species’ key habitats is an essential component of its recovery.
Earlier this year, the Xerces Society and Center for Biological Diversity asked for emergency ESA protection for the Bethany Beach firefly. One of only seven coastal sand dunes where it occurs is actively being developed, which is likely to wipe out the population. Here is an example of a species that desperately needs protection—but with revised rules regarding how the ESA is implemented, does a species that is so clearly endangered have a chance at receiving protection? And if it does, will it be meaningful?
I’m left wondering: Who really wants to live in and pass on a world without a diversity of butterflies to fill the sky, bees to pollinate our food and flowers, and fireflies to light up the night? Clearly, those who wrote and support these new rules think that is an acceptable future.
Written by Sarina Jepsen, director of the Xerces Society’s endangered species conservation program.
Learn more about the dire situation facing western monarchs.
Learn more about the Xerces Society’s Endangered Species Conservation Program.
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Tags: bees, bumble bee, bumble bee conservation, bumble bees, Butterflies, climate change, conservation, Endangered Species, habitat, monarch conservation, Monarchs, native bees, policy, rusty patched, rusty patched bumble bee, update, Western Monarch, western monarchs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Rich Hatfield, Senior Conservation Biologist, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, (503) 468-8405, [email protected]
Sarina Jepsen, Endangered Species Program Director, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and Co-Chair of the IUCN Bumble Bee Specialist Group, (971) 244-3727, [email protected]
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes Endangered Species Act protection for Franklin’s bumble bee
The Xerces Society applauds efforts to protect this imperiled species
PORTLAND, Ore.; August 12, 2019—Responding to a petition from the Xerces Society and the late Dr. Robbin Thorp, Professor Emeritus at University of California–Davis, tomorrow the United States Fish and Wildlife Service will propose to list Franklin’s bumble bee (Bombus franklini) as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), making it the first bee in the western U.S. to be officially recognized under the ESA.
Franklin’s bumble bee has the most restricted range of any bumble bee in the world; it is known only in southern Oregon and northern California between the Coast and Sierra-Cascade Ranges. Its entire distribution can be covered by an oval of about 190 miles north to south and 70 miles east to west. A precipitous decline began in 1999, and despite an extensive amount of searching, Franklin’s bumble bee has not been seen since 2006. The primary threats to this species include: 1) diseases from managed bees, 2) pesticides, and 3) a small population size.
The Xerces Society and Dr. Thorp formally petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect Franklin’s bumble bee in 2010.
Dr. Thorp, a leader in bumble bee conservation for decades, conducted surveys for Franklin’s bumble bee for more than two decades and was the first person to call attention to the decline in Franklin’s bumble bee and other formerly common bumble bees. He passed away in June 2019.
“We welcome this decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service to extend ESA protection to Franklin’s bumble bee,” said Sarina Jepsen, director of the Xerces Society’s endangered species conservation program. “This bee urgently needs all the help it can get.”
While many native pollinators have suffered declines related to loss of habitat and pesticides, the sudden decline of Franklin’s bumble bee and some of its closest relatives—including the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis)—was likely initiated by a fungus that spread from managed bees. This hypothesis was first introduced by Dr. Thorp, and has been extensively tested by a team led by Dr. Sydney Cameron of the University of Illinois—who determined that commercial bumble bees were likely responsible for spreading and amplifying this pathogen across North America. For Franklin’s bumble bee, the effects of this fungus may have been compounded by insecticide use; loss of habitat; and, given its restricted historic range, a small population size.
“The decline in bumble bees like Franklin’s bumble bee should serve as an alarm that we are losing important pollinators,” said Xerces Society Executive Director Scott Hoffman Black. “We hope that the story of the Franklin’s bumble bee will compel us to prevent pollinators across the U.S. from sliding toward extinction.”
To better understand the status of all bumble bees in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and to encourage people to continue searching for Franklin’s bumble bee, the Xerces Society and conservation partners have launched a new project utilizing the contributions of community scientists to help map bumble bees in the Pacific Northwest. This region is home to nearly thirty species of these charismatic and easily recognizable bees, and many of them face an uncertain future.
The Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas is spearheaded by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The partners collaborate with community scientists to collect information on bumble bees across the Pacific Northwest.
“If we hope to find Franklin’s bumble bee again, we need all hands on deck,” said Rich Hatfield, senior conservation biologist at the Xerces Society. “With the help of community scientists, we can hopefully rediscover Franklin’s bumble bee, and better understand how to conserve all of our region’s most vulnerable bumble bees.”
ABOUT THE XERCES SOCIETY FOR INVERTEBRATE CONSERVATION
The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects the natural world by conserving invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is a trusted source for science-based information and advice. We collaborate with people and institutions at all levels and our work to protect pollinators encompasses all landscapes. Our team draws together experts from the fields of habitat restoration, entomology, botany and conservation biology with a single passion: protecting the life that sustains us. To learn more about our work, please visit www.xerces.org or follow us @xercessociety on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
Bee Better Certified has grown significantly since its launch during Pollinator Week 2017. Since then, we have certified 9 farms—and now, in summer 2019, we have reached another milestone: the first product licensed to display the Bee Better Certified seal is now arriving in stores.
In partnership with AC Foods and Oregon Tilth, we’re pleased to announce the arrival of California Giant brand Bee Better Certified organic blueberries. Sourced from farms near Independence, Oregon and arriving soon at a variety of grocery stores, these berries represent tremendous dedication and conservation ethic by the farms that produced them. To bring these berries to market, AC Foods restored many acres of high-quality native plant habitat and adopted management practices to reduce pesticides and benefit pollinators. (See the full Bee Better Certified standards here.)
Collectively, farmers, food companies, and consumers can re-shape agriculture in a way that will help ensure the survival of pollinators and other wildlife. Purchasing food with the Bee Better label supports the companies that are leading the way on pollinator conservation, and empowers us to continue growing this one-of-a-kind, science-based certification program.
This is also a moment to reflect on the hard work of the Xerces Society, the Bee Better Advisory Board, and Oregon Tilth in this collaborative effort—and to thank the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for the early funding that made this possible. After taking a brief pause to appreciate this achievement, we are getting back to work, continuing our efforts to make farms better for bees.
Thank you for your support; you have all helped us reach another milestone on this journey!
Written by Cameron Newell, Bee Better Certified Coordinator and Xerces Society Pollinator Conservation Specialist.
For updates on the program or information on what it takes to get certified, please visit the Bee Better Certified website.
Xerces’ conservation work is powered by our donors. Your tax-deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.