The next step for bee conservation

By Christy Leavitt
Director of Partnerships

You may have read the headlines recently: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated seven bee species as endangered. This is the first time any bee has been protected under the Endangered Species Act, and it’s a step toward saving these important pollinators.

But we still have a long way to go. The species that this decision safeguards are found only in Hawaii, and account for only a fraction of the total number of bee species under threat. There are 4,000 native bee species in the U.S. According to a U.S Department of Agriculture report , these bees vary in “their life styles, the places they frequent, the nests they build, the flowers they visit, and their season of activity.” But, together, they perform an important service: Pollinating 75 percent of our crops and 80 percent of our flowering plants. And, just as honey bees are increasingly disappearing, some native bees are in real trouble.

To move forward on bee conservation, we need to start protecting other threatened species. And we now have an opportunity to do just that. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that the rusty patched bumblebee -- one of just 50 bumblebee species in North America -- be listed as an endangered species. This bee is just the kind of pollinator we need to protect.

Bumblebees are a key component of our agriculture. According to Sarina Jepsen of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, bumblebees are important pollinators for a third of U.S crops. They pollinate in a unique way, using “ buzz pollination, in which the bee grabs the flower in her jaws and vibrates her wing muscles to dislodge pollen from the flower.”

A variety of foods and flowers profit from or even require this kind of pollination. The rusty patched bumblebee, in particular, excels at pollinating wildflowers, cranberries, plums, apples, and alfalfa.

But this bee is as threatened as it is necessary -- which is to say, very. In recent years, its population has declined a shocking 95 percent. And while it used to be seen in 31 states,it’s now seen in just 12. We could lose this precious pollinator if we don’t take action now.

We know that listing this bee as an endangered species would be an effective way to save it. The Endangered Species Act has proven itself as a way to increase animal populations; less than one percent of the 2,000 animals it’s protecting have gone extinct while on its list.

Being listed as an endangered specifies has allowed animals like the American alligator, the bald eagle, and the grey wolf to survive and make impressive comebacks. We need to give the rusty patched bumblebee a chance to do the same.

For the sake of our food and our environment, we must go further to conserve all our bees – and a step toward doing that is putting the rusty patched bumblebee on the endangered species list.

Sign our petition now to let the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service know that they should take this important step. If you’ve already signed our petition, please share this Facebook post with a friend. Thanks so much for supporting the bees!