Conservation groups and scientists ask the USDA to protect wild bumble bees from disease

November 19, 2009
Contact: Scott Hoffman Black, 503-449-3792, [email protected]

In comments to the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, ten other conservation groups, and several bee scientists have formally asked for protection of wild bumble bees from the threat of disease.

Read the complete comments

Recent work by Dr. Robbin Thorp and The Xerces Society has established that at least four species of formerly common North American bumble bees have experienced steep declines; two of those species teeter on the brink of extinction. A major threat to the survival of these wild bees is the spread of diseases from commercially produced bees that are transported throughout the country.

“The federal government does not regulate the movement of native bees throughout the United States, nor does it certify that native bees that are moved be free of diseases,” said Sarina Jepsen, Endangered Species Program Director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has the authority to regulate the interstate movement of native bees under the Plant Protection Act.”

Bee pollination is essential to the reproduction of many crops and native flowering plants, and pathogens of bumble bees can act as indirect plant pests that pose a significant threat to agriculture and native ecosystems.

In order to prevent the spread of disease to wild populations of agriculturally significant bee pollinators, the Xerces Society et al. has asked the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) to use its authority under the Plant Protection Act to regulate bumble bee pathogens as plant pests. Specifically, USDA-APHIS should create rules prohibiting the movement of bumble bees outside of their native ranges and regulate interstate movement of bumble bee pollinators within their native ranges by requiring permits that show that bumble bees are certified as disease-free prior to movement.

“The rusty patched bumble bee, the western bumble bee, the yellow banded bumble bee and Franklin’s bumble bee are all threatened by disease spread from commercially reared bumble bees. Franklin’s bumble bee and the rusty patched bumble bee may be headed for extinction,” said Scott Hoffman Black, Executive Director of the Xerces Society. “We hope to work with USDA-APHIS to enact common sense regulations that ensure these and other bumble bee species are adequately protected.”

To read more about declining bumble bees, please visit our website.

Conservation groups supporting this request include: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pollinator Partnership, Wild Farm Alliance, Endangered Species Coalition, The Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, Center for Native Ecosystems, Conservation Northwest, Native Plant Society of Oregon and Western Nebraska Resources Council.

Bee experts supporting this request include: Robbin Thorp, Ph.D. (University of California, Davis), Marla Spivak, Ph.D. (University of Minnesota) and Claire Kremen, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley).