Red Listing North America’s bumblebees

This blog was originally posted on the IUCN Red List’s website

This spring has been busy for bumblebee conservation in North America. Over the last several months I have been working with other IUCN SSC Bumblebee Specialist Group members to complete the IUCN Red List assessments of all North American bumblebees. In April, I also had the opportunity to work with our Specialist Group members from Mesoamerica and South America in Chiapas, Mexico. As part of this meeting, I led an IUCN Red Listing workshop. Since the workshop, great progress has been made and we hope to complete Red List assessments for the majority of the New World bumblebee species by the end of the calendar year.

As well as being a significant achievement in its own right, the completion of the North American bumblebee assessments will help inform conservation efforts throughout North America. Finishing the assessments for North America will provide a complete picture of the conservation status of all of our bumblebee fauna. This is particularly useful, and timely, here in the United States as the majority of the states are in the process of updating their State Wildlife Action Plans. State Wildlife Action Plans are comprehensive wildlife conservation strategies that are developed by each state, and supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The plans’ goal is to identify wildlife conservation issues and the status of both wildlife and their habitats.

To help the states update their Wildlife Action Plans, I have been using North American Red List assessments to reach out to the agencies responsible for updating these state wildlife plans to advocate for the protection of bumblebee species that are experiencing some degree of extinction risk (species that are listed on the Red List as Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered). As a direct result of these assessments, and the importance of bumblebees as pollinators, more than half of U.S. states will identify at least one bumblebee species as a species of greatest conservation need in their revised State Wildlife Action Plan. This means that conservation plans will be developed, and funding will become available for research and restoration projects benefitting at-risk bumblebees in the majority of the U.S. This is a huge conservation victory for bumblebees, and a great step toward the protection of native pollinators in the U.S.

In addition to our efforts to garner state-level protection for at-risk bumblebees, I have also been busy teaching bumblebee conservation courses throughout the Pacific Northwest and California. Because so many of our bumblebees are facing some degree of extinction risk and nearly half of the land in the West is managed by federal agencies, there is currently a need to ensure that all of the management strategies employed on publicly owned lands are compatible with the survival and recovery of bumblebee populations. Using the IUCN Red List for bumblebees as a guide for target species, I have been training Federal (U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service) biologists on how to identify and survey bumblebees. Besides identification and survey skills, I have also raised awareness about the importance of bumblebees for ecosystem function and shared best management practices for bumblebees. Attendees have learned how grazing, fire, mowing, insecticides, and other management practices affect bumblebee habitat. I also shared practical advice on how to alter management practices to protect and conserve – as well as ways to create – high quality bumblebee landscapes. Over the last two years we have reached nearly 200 biologists and land managers with these workshops, which has led to increased awareness throughout the region, and additional records for several of our imperiled species.

While the preliminary data from North American bumblebee assessments are not encouraging – over one-quarter of our species are facing some degree of extinction risk – there is no question that the results are changing the conservation landscape for bumble bees in North America. Red Listing North America’s bumblebees has led to countless acres that are now mediated from ongoing threats, awareness has been heightened at the local, state and federal level, and the status of North America’s bumblebees has helped elevate native bees to the national conversation regarding pollinators and pollinator conservation. There is still much work to be done to ensure that all of our bumblebee species are secure for generations to come, but Red Listing our bumblebees has helped to make much of our public and private lands safer for bumblebees and the organisms and ecosystems that they help to support.

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