Citing its deep decline in numbers, on January 10, 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) listed the rusty patched bumble bee, Bombus affinis, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). FWS estimates the rusty patched bumble bee population has seen as much as a 91 percent reduction since the mid to late 1990s. Twenty years ago, this species was practically ubiquitous in eastern North America, spanning across 28 states. Now its territory covers only small regions in 12 states: Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
This listing is the first for bees under the ESA, but unlikely the last. Like the rusty patch bumble bee, other bee species are facing steep declines in their respective populations. Declining bee populations are troubling, because bees, as pollinators, are vital to the U.S. agricultural industry. According to a study conducted in 2010 by Cornell University, bees and other pollinators are estimated to contribute a total of $29 billion to the industry, with $16.35 billion attributed specifically to pollination.
The direct cause of these dramatic declines in bee populations is undetermined and likely due to a multitude of factors. FWS states the threats to the rusty patched bumble bee include disease, exposure to pesticides, habitat loss, and climate change. This listing will likely intensify the debate over commonly used pesticides, including neonicotinoids, which have undergone additional scrutiny after a 2016 study published in Nature linked the use of neonicotinoids to the decline of wild bee populations in England.
FWS published the proposal for this listing in the Federal Register on September 22, 2016 and the final listing was published in the Federal Regulation on. January 10, 2017. However, due to the Trump administration’s Inauguration Day memorandum halting or delaying any new federal regulations, the ESA’s protection for the rusty patch bumble bee is delayed until March 21, 2017-a stinging result.