The rusty patched bumblebee is among numerous bee species whose numbers have declined due to several factors, but the Obama administration wants to make sure it gets the protection it needs from further depletion.
In an announcement made Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to have the fast-vanishing rusty patched bumblebee listed as endangered, making it eligible for government protection measures. It was once a very common sight in the upper Midwest and Northeast regions in the United States, but has seen its numbers decline significantly over the past 20 years or so. And while there are several wild bees with rapidly declining numbers, it is also the first of its kind in the continental U.S. to be subject to a formal proposal for listing as endangered, per the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
According to quotes from the Fish and Wildlife Service, the rusty patched bumblebee’s decline has been driven by several factors, primarily disease, pesticide use, climate change, and loss of habitat. The bee is so named due to its distinctive red patch on its abdomen, but sightings have become increasingly rare, with its count having dropped by over 90 percent since the late 1990s.
Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation spokeswoman Sarina Jepsen had lobbied that the rusty patched bumblebee be listed as a protected species, due to bumblebees being key pollinators of approximately one-third of U.S. crops, as well as wildflowers. Further, wild bee population declines are substantially harder to keep track of than those of domestic honeybees, as professional beekeepers meticulously take note of the latter’s population. She also added that potential protection tools and measures will heighten the debate on whether neonicotinoid pesticides have played a role in the decline of wild bumble bees or not.
“Endangered Species Act safeguards are now the only way the bumble bee would have a fighting chance for survival,” said Jepsen in a statement.