Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Denial of Crucial Habitat Protection to Endangered Rusty Patched Bumblebee
WASHINGTON—Conservation groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for refusing to designate critical habitat for the highly endangered rusty patched bumblebee.
Despite the bee’s disappearance from 87% of its native range, the Service announced in September that designating critical habitat for the species was “not prudent,” claiming that availability of habitat does not limit the bee’s conservation. This Trump administration decision contradicted the agency’s own findings that habitat loss and degradation have contributed to the bee’s decline, worsened by the widespread use of insecticides and herbicides that directly kill the bee and the wildflowers it needs to survive.
“Having to drag the Service to court at every step is getting old; they should just do right by the bee in the first place,” said Lucas Rhoads, a staff attorney at NRDC. “The Service ignores obvious benefits of designating these areas and interprets the Endangered Species Act in a way that threatens habitat protections for other similar species. The Service has a major role in combatting the biodiversity crisis we face, and it can start by protecting imperiled species and their habitats as the ESA requires. We’re confident that our lawsuit will ensure that they do just that.”
Once common in the Midwest and Northeast, the rusty patched bumblebee was protected as endangered in 2017. In addition to habitat loss and degradation, climate change and disease have contributed to its decline.
“The Service’s refusal to provide the habitat protections this gravely imperiled bee so desperately needs is a betrayal of its mission to protect endangered species,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This beautiful bumblebee was once common across much of the country. But if we don’t protect the places where it breeds and feeds, it’ll keep moving down the path to extinction.”
“In 2019, the rusty patched bumblebee was declared by our legislature as Minnesota’s ‘official bee,’ ” said Thomas E. Casey, board chair of Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas. “Certain areas of Minnesota are some of the last places on Earth where this bee can be found. We need to do everything we can to preserve and enhance habitat for this endangered pollinator.”
The Endangered Species Act requires the Service to designate critical habitat for listed species, subject to narrow exceptions. Species without designated critical habitat are only half as likely to move toward recovery as species with critical habitat.
The suit was brought by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas.
The rusty patched bumblebee was protected under the Endangered Species Act in January 2017 after a petition from the Xerces Society followed by a lawsuit by NRDC. The Service then failed to designate critical habitat by the statutory deadline, prompting another lawsuit by NRDC in 2019. A legal settlement with NRDC required the agency to move forward with a critical habitat determination in summer of 2020.
The decline of the rusty patched bumblebee is part of a troubling trend of declines in many of the 4,000-plus species of native bees in the United States.
Native bees often provide more effective pollination of native plants than honeybees, which are not native to the United States. Wild pollinator declines across North America are caused by habitat loss, agricultural intensification, pesticide use, invasive non-native species, climate change and pathogens.
About 90% of wild plants and 75% of leading global food crops depend on animal pollinators for reproduction, and the great majority of that work is done by bees.
Despite the growing evidence of declining bee populations, the rusty patched bumblebee is the only bee in the continental United States currently protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC
Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas (FMSNA) is a Minnesota non-profit, tax- exempt corporation whose mission is to advocate for the protection, management, and perpetuation of Minnesota’s 160+ Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs), the “crown jewels” of Minnesota’s state land base.