How many native bees live in Texas, and what can we do to save them?

A new bill to help landowners help pollinators is a great start

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department | Used by permission
An American Bumble Bee in Lockhart State Park, TX

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There are roughly 4,000 bees that make their home in North America, and of those, more than 800 of them live in Texas. Our state is blessed with plasterer bees, bumble bees, oil-collector bees, leaf-cutter bees, mason bees and more. 

As is the case for many pollinators, these Lone Star bees are in decline. Consider the bumble bee. Of the 21 species in Eastern North America, 11 of them are on hurting, including the southern plains bumble bee. This little bee has shown big declines in Texas, slipping to the point where it’s potentially eligible for protections under the Endangered Species Act. 

The more that the numbers of southern plains bumble bee and all native bee species drop, the more that entire ecosystems get out of whack. You see, bees are nature’s best pollinators, benefiting not only our food supply (think apples, melons, broccoli, squash, tomatoes and more) but also the many plants and flowers that grow in Texas. 

Bees have adapted to their local environments; they’re specialized pollinators, suited best to the plants that are also native to their neck of the woods.

While the decline in native bees is a huge problem, there are a couple of pieces of good news. 

One, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has recognized the value of native bees. Seven years ago, the department developed guidelines for private landowners to implement wildlife management plans for pollinators, and in return, landowners are eligible for a tax break. 

Two, there is a bill this year in the Texas Legislature by Sen. Judith Zaffirini from Laredo. Her measure would accelerate the timeline for getting private landowners a break for helping native bees. 

Given that most of us delight in viewing a meadow chock-full of wildflowers, and I’d wager that all of us appreciate a good meal, protecting our pollinators makes a whole lot of sense. This is especially true for the native bees that over the millenia have adapted to the Texas landscape.

Simply put, we gotta save the bees. 

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Authors

Luke Metzger

Executive Director, Environment Texas

As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air and water, parks and wildlife, and a livable climate. Luke recently led the successful campaign to get the Texas Legislature and voters to invest $1 billion to buy land for new state parks. He also helped win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; helped compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at four Texas refineries and chemical plants; and got the Austin and Houston school districts to install filters on water fountains to protect children from lead in drinking water. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks. He is a board member of the Clean Air Force of Central Texas and an advisory board member of the Texas Tech University Masters of Public Administration program. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.

Steve Blackledge

Senior Director, Conservation America Campaign, Environment America

Steve directs Environment America’s efforts to protect our public lands and waters and the species that depend on them. He led our successful campaign to win full and permanent funding for our nation’s best conservation and recreation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He previously oversaw U.S. PIRG’s public health campaigns. Steve lives in Sacramento, California, with his family, where he enjoys biking and exploring Northern California.