For the first time in the United States, a bumblebee species has been declared an endangered species: The Rusty Patched Bumblebee (Bombus affinis). Over the past two decades, the bee’s population has plummeted nearly 90 percent. Now designated as endangered and under federal protection, may be the only thing standing between the bumblebee and extinction. Reasons for depleted rusty patched bumblebee populations are severe loss of habitat, diseases, parasites, escalating pesticides use (especially the neonicotinoid pesticides) and climate change, are killing the bumblebee.
The bumblebee’s path to the endangered species list was not a smooth one. On January 11, 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized the bumblebee’s listing as an endangered species but then on January 20, the bee got stung by the Trump administration’s efforts to postpone and review Obama-era regulations that hadn’t yet taken into effect. Finally on February 10, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the bumblebee’s listing would take effect on March 21, more than a month after it was originally scheduled.
June was designated as National Pollinator Month in 2007 by the U.S. Senate. To raise awareness about the key role pollinators play keeping our ecosystems healthy and supporting agriculture, in addition to addressing the decline in pollinator population. It highlights the virtues of pollinators and what we can do to protect and encourage them to continue their vital mission.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has found that more than half of the 4,000 native bee species in North America and Hawaii are declining. Nearly 1 in 4 is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction. Of these, more than 700 species are in trouble from the same serious threats listed above. Kelsey Kopec, a native pollinator researcher at the CBD and author of the study, says, “The evidence is overwhelming that hundreds of the native bees we depend on for ecosystem stability, as well as pollination services worth billions of dollars, are spiraling toward extinction.” “Almost 90 percent of wild plants are dependent on insect pollination. If we don’t act to save these remarkable creatures, our world will be a less colorful and more lonesome place.”
Tell the EPA to Save Bees
Environmentalists continue to worry about how the use of insecticides called neonicotinoids will continue to hurt pollinators, including honeybees, but the insecticides continue to get approved and companies continue to use them. Beekeepers are struggling to have their voices heard by major pesticide manufacturers such as Bayer and Monsanto–who makes the neonicotinoids connected to mass bee die-offs in hives all around the world. A UN report showed that bees and other pollinators are at a threat of a global extinction–and we rely on them for 80 percent of our food crops. In other words, when bees die, people starve. We need to stop killing bees. And the best way to do that is making sure neonic pesticides get off our shelves.
According to the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign 80 percent of food plant species worldwide depend on pollinators. We have them to thank for an estimated one out of every three mouthfuls of food and drink we consume. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Bumblebees are among the most important pollinators of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and clover, and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes.” While bees have gotten a lot of attention in the media, they’re not the only species who work to support wildlife and bring us our favorite foods, including chocolate and coffee! Other pollinators include birds, butterflies, beetles, rodents, bats all working to spread pollen and fertilize plants. If you like Tequila, you can toast to Mexican long-tongued bats, who are the main pollinators of agave. According to Bat Conservation International, if one disappeared, we wouldn’t have the other.
Ways to help protect pollinators
You can help bees and other pollinators at home by planting native flowers, limiting or avoiding pesticides, and fostering natural landscapes that attract the insects. Planting native flowering shrubs, trees and flowers that bloom throughout the seasons will attract pollinators and help them thrive. Place these native plants as borders for your fruits and vegetables with native flowers, you’ll improve pollination of your crops and support the bees when the crops stop blooming. To find out about native plants in your area, download Bee Smart – an app that will help you decide what to plant based on your landscape and which pollinators you want to attract to your garden. Add pollinator habitat by making homes like bat houses and bee boxes to draw pollinators and help them survive. Keep pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals out of your garden and leave the weeds. Some plants, including dandelions and clover, may be considered unsightly on lawns, but they’re an important food source for pollinators.
Another idea to help bees is choosing native plants in a variety of shapes and colors. By encourage diversity among your native plants, you are making sure something is blooming each season. Did you know that most species of bees are solitary, and some 70 percent of them dig a nest in the ground to raise their young–something they can’t do if mulch is in the way so leave a little bare ground too. One last idea is to install a bee block or bee hotel, which are available online or at some garden stores.
In closing, the demise of bees and other pollinators will cause untold hardship and misery for human beings and wildlife. It does not have to happen if we start now to make changes in our own yards. We also need to reach out to our congressmen and senators to let them know we want them to support the Endangered Species Act and to ban the dangerous pesticides companies want to spew into our environment. By keeping the rusty patched bumblebee from extinction, we are helping the well-being of our own species too. Remember, Billions of dollars–and a way of life–ride on saving pollinators.
For More information:
Pesticide manufacturers’ own tests reveal serious harm to honeybees, The Guardian,
September 22, 2016
Pollinators in Peril, Center for Biological Diversity,
March 1, 2017
The Plight of the Honeybee By Jennifer S. Holland, for National Geographic News
May 10, 2013