In what is unwelcome news to lovers of nature, the rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) has become the first bumblebee to be listed as endangered in the United States.
Once a frequent sight, the bumblebee is now teetering on the brink of extinction according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It once could be found in 28 states, but the bee’s population has declined by 90% over the past 20 years.
A brief conflict arose as the Trump administration temporarily held up the listing as they challenged some of the regulations issued regarding the Endangered Species Act, but the bumblebee is officially protected by the ESA, relieving advocates for its protection.
On January 11th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized the bee’s listing as being endangered.
The bumblebee is not the first bee to be listed as endangered in the United States. Seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees have received protected status under the ESA as of last September.
The rusty patched bumblebee’s greatest threats are habitat loss, climate change, the use of pesticides, and disease. The bumblebee, while small, is a critical pollinator for our food systems and without pollinators, the work of pollination would fall to humans.
“Bumblebees are among the most important pollinators of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and clover, and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“The economic value of pollination services provided by native insects (mostly bees) is estimated at $3 billion per year in the United States.”