BRAINERD, Minn. - A regulatory freeze issued by the White House on Inauguration Day delayed the listing of the rusty patched bumble bee on the endangered species list.
Described by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as on the brink of extinction, the bee native to Minnesota was scheduled for its official listing Friday. A rule published in the Federal Register Friday delayed the listing until March 21, in accordance with the Jan. 20 memo from Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on behalf of President Donald Trump.
The freeze applied to any regulations proposed during the Obama administration, but not yet finalized. In the case of the bumble bee listing, which was published but not yet in effect, its effective date was required to be postponed 60 days "for the purpose of reviewing questions of fact, law and policy they raise."
Listing of the rusty patched bumble bee on the endangered species list was prompted by a dramatic decrease in its population in the span of two decades. Once common across 28 states and two Canadian provinces, the bee's population has dropped by 87 percent, now recorded in scattered groups in 13 states and one province. It is the first bee of any kind in the contiguous 48 states to be recognized as endangered.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which petitioned the USFWS for the bee's listing in 2013, published a statement on the delay Friday on its website.
"Protection for the rusty patched bumble bee have already been delayed for over four years," wrote Rich Hatfield, senior endangered species conservation biologist. "Any additional delay would further imperil this animal, and could ultimately lead to its extinction. Extinction is forever, and to quote a friend of mine-Sam Droege, a biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey-'bees are not optional.'"
Although the rusty patched bumble bee is just now on its way to the endangered species list, it was recognized as endangered under the Species at Risk Act in Canada in 2010, and was considered critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' Red List in 2015.
The USFWS notes there are several reasons listing under the Endangered Species Act assists in conservation efforts.
"Listing focuses conservation planning and funding, raises awareness that can lead to additional conservation opportunities and partners, and by regulation protects listed species from intentional and unintentional harm," the USFWS website states.
Once a species is listed, the service must prepare a recovery plan, which identifies actions needed to conserve and recover a species.
"Our top priority is to act quickly to prevent extinction of the rusty patched bumble bee," said Tom Melius, Midwest regional director, in a USFWS press release announcing the bumble bee's listing. "The rusty patched bumble bee is among a group of pollinators-including the monarch butterfly-experiencing serious declines across the country. ... Why is this important? Pollinators are small but mighty parts of the natural mechanism that sustains us and our world. Without them, our forests, parks, meadows and shrublands, and the abundant, vibrant life they support, cannot survive, and our crops require laborious, costly pollination by hand."
The USFWS reported bumble bees are especially good pollinators, part of the group of insects responsible for pollination worth an estimated $3 billion in the United States.
Pressures from multiple sources are believed to be responsible for the precipitous decline of the bumble bee. These include loss of habitat, diseases and parasites introduced by commercially bred bees, the use of pesticides, climate change and extremely small population size.
Backing the bumble bees
The rusty patched bumble bee once lived in grasslands and prairies of the Upper Midwest and Northeast, but many of those areas are gone. The bee gathers pollen and nectar from a variety of flowering plants. It emerges in early spring and is one of the last bumble bee species to go into hibernation in the fall. Because it is active so long, it needs a constant supply of flowers blooming from April through September.
Rusty patched bumble bee colonies rely on survival of their queen bee, the only member of the colony that survives the winter. In spring, a solitary queen emerges from hibernation, finds a suitable nest site and lays eggs fertilized the previous fall. Worker bees hatch, and the colony grows. New queens replace the old, all workers die and the cycle repeats.
There are steps the public can take to help pollinators such as the rusty patched bumble bee.
• Plant a mix of flowers. A mix of flowering trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants are best, so something is always blooming between April and September. Native plants are a great choice. Visit https://tinyurl.com/zqz48sh for a list of Minnesota plants particularly attractive to bees.
• Provide flowers in early spring. The survival of bumble bees rests on the shoulders of queens as they wake from winter diapause, look for nest sites and start laying eggs. Flowers for pollen and nectar are critical. Try to include spring ephemeral flowers and spring flowering trees and shrubs to help the queens start new colonies.
• Don't mow and rake the entire yard. Bumble bees and many other pollinators (bees, moths and butterflies) need a safe place to build their nests and overwinter. During spring and summer, leave some areas of the yard unmowed. In autumn, leave some areas of the yard unraked and leave standing plant stems in flower beds.
• Be pesticide-free. Pesticides, especially insecticides, harm pollinators. Herbicides reduce food sources by removing flowers from the landscape. The Xerces Society notes more pesticides are applied per acre in urban neighborhoods than on farmland.
A group of insecticides known as neonicotinoids are particularly harmful to pollinators. Visit www.xerces.org/wings-magazine/neonicotinoids-in-your-garden for a list of garden products containing the insecticide.
• Take the pledge. Visit www.millionpollinatorgardens.org to register a pubic or private garden as pollinator friendly.
• Be a citizen scientist. Observe a bumble bee? Report the sighting. Visit www.bumblebeewatch.org to submit data to a collaborative effort tracking bumble bees across North America. Or, report observations at www.extension.umn.edu/environment/citizen-science/bee-atlas to contribute to the Minnesota Bee Atlas.
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.