It becomes the first bumble bee — and the first of any bee species in the contiguous United States — to receive federal protections.
“The Trump administration reversed course and listed the rusty patched bumble bee as an endangered species just in the nick of time,” Rebecca Riley, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement Tuesday. “Federal protections may be the only thing standing between the bumble bee and extinction.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January listed the bee as endangered, citing population declines caused by the loss of habitat, disease, pesticide use and climate change. But before the protections took effect, the listing was frozen until March 21 as part of a sweeping executive order by President Donald Trump that imposed a 60-day waiting period on new regulations.
The NRDC responded by suing the Trump administration, arguing that it failed to give proper public notice of the delay, or safeguard “a species currently facing an imminent risk of extinction.”
Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email Tuesday that the Fish and Wildlife Service delayed the effective date of the endangered species listing to “allow for standard review.” She said government scientists “have noted that the brief delay is not expected to have an impact on the conservation of the species,” since the Fish and Wildlife Service is still developing a plan to restore the bees “to what they believe is a healthy and secure condition.”
“We will work with stakeholders to ensure collaborative conservation among landowners, farmers, industry, and developers in the areas where the species is native,” Swift said.
Rusty patched bumble bees were once found in abundant numbers across 28 states, in the Northeast and upper Midwest, along with two Canadian provinces. But the population has experienced a “swift and dramatic decline” since the late 1990s, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Today, the bees, which pollinate important crops like tomatoes, cranberries and peppers, are “likely to be present in scattered locations” covering only 0.1 percent of the species’ historical range.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which filed a petition calling for the species’ endangered listing, said Tuesday was “an historic day.”
“We are thrilled to see one of North America’s most endangered species receive the protection it needs,” Sarina Jepsen, director of endangered species at the Xerces, said in a statement. “Now that the Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered, it stands a chance of surviving the many threats it faces — from the use of neonicotinoid pesticides to diseases.”
Federal officials estimate that bees and other pollinators in the U.S. provide around $3 billion in economic value per year.