Global bumblebee populations have been declining for some time now – a fact which should concern you, because plants don’t pollinate themselves.
Without plants, we don’t eat.
Things have become so bad that on September 29, 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has officially proposed listing the bumblebee as an endangered species. This is the first time the USFWS has given a bee species such a designation.
In the US, the most commonly recognized bumblebee is actually known to researchers as the “rusty patched bumblebee”. As its name suggests, the species can be identified by a small, rust-colored mark on the middle of their second abdominal segment. Historically, the rust patched bumblebee was widespread along the east coast of North America; from Quebec to Georgia, and across much of the Midwest.
The key word there is “historically”. According to the USFWS, the species’ numbers have decreased incrementally since the late 1990s. Today, the species inhabits a paltry eight percent of its former territory.
The threats to bees are many; climate change, insecticides, disease, and habitat loss due to human activity are all equal contributors. Perhaps the most insidious of these is a host of unnatural pathogens, which incubated in commercial, genetically-modified bees used to pollinate greenhouse crops. These man-made bees escaped captivity, introducing their pathogens into the wild (where there was no natural defense).
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has already listed the rusty patched bumblebee as endangered. The decision from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service comes in response to a 2013 lawsuit from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
“This decision comes not a moment too soon,” said Rebecca Riley, senior attorney with NRDC. “Bee populations — including thousands of species of wild bees — are in crisis across the country, and the rusty patched bumblebee is one of the most troubling examples. [This] decision is a critical step forward. If finalized, the endangered species protections will improve the health of our ecosystem as well as the security of our national food supply.”