Xerces and NRDC ask FWS to take legal steps to protect rusty patched bumble bee

On February 13, 2014, the Xerces Society and NRDC filed a notice of intent to sue the Secretary of the Interior for failure to respond to a petition to list the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The rusty patched bumble bee is an important pollinator of cranberries, plums, apples, alfalfa, and numerous other crops and wildflowers. Historically, it was found across the Upper Midwest and Eastern Seaboard, but in recent years it has been lost from 87% of its historic range and its abundance relative to other bumble bees has declined by 95%.

The Xerces Society filed a petition to protect the rusty patched bumble bee under the ESA more than a year ago. Under the ESA, the Secretary of the Interior must make an initial response to a petition within 90 days (a simple statement of whether or not the petition presents sufficient information to support the requested protection), and if the Secretary finds that protection may be warranted, this law further requires her to decide within a year of the petition whether or not the species should be protected . Neither of these deadlines has been met, hence the Xerces Society and NRDC are taking the next step.

Meanwhile, the rusty patched bumble bee continues to face threats. Declines in some North American bumble bees have been associated with increased pathogen levels and reduced genetic diversity, and scientists are currently investigating the hypothesis that exotic pathogens were introduced to wild rusty patched bumble bees from commercial bumble bee colonies. The rusty patched bumble bee may also be threatened by other pathogens, pesticides, habitat loss or fragmentation, climate change, and competition with honey bees for nectar and pollen.

With Endangered Species Act protection, remaining populations of this species could be protected from site specific threats and the bee’s habitat could be enhanced. Government agencies would also need to address issues such as the registration of new pesticides that may be harmful to this species and the movement of commercial bumble bees which may transfer disease to wild bumble bees.