Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 8, 2024

Contact:

Andrew Scibetta, NRDC, (818) 731-9794, ascibetta@nrdc.org
Ryan Adair Shannon, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6407, rshannon@biologicaldiversity.org
Tom Casey, Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas, (952) 472-1099, tcasey@frontiernet.net

Agreement Ensures Swift Consideration of Habitat Protection for Endangered Rusty Patched Bumblebees

WASHINGTON— A federal judge approved an agreement today between conservation groups and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that puts the agency on a prompt schedule to consider and designate critical habitat for highly endangered rusty patched bumblebees.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), the Center for Biological Diversity, and Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas in 2021 challenged the Service’s failure to designate critical habitat for the bee. Today’s agreement, which comes after the court struck down the Service’s original determination that such a designation was not prudent, requires the agency to revisit its determination by Nov. 20, 2024. If the Service proposes to designate critical habitat for the bee, the agreement requires it to finalize that determination by Oct. 31, 2025.

“The Service is years behind on these moves, but better late than never when it comes to struggling species like the rusty patched bumblebee,” said Lucas Rhoads, a staff attorney at NRDC. “Having a safe home is critical for the bee’s survival and today's agreement is a critical step in that direction.”

The bee was listed as an endangered species in 2017, in part due to the loss of 99% of its native grasslands in the Northeast and upper Midwest. But the Service determined in September 2020 that designating critical habitat for the bees was “not prudent.”

The judge rejected that claim and held that the Service could forego designating critical habitat “only if the designation would not be beneficial for the species,” which the judge found was not supported by the facts.

The designation of critical habitat would be a significant boon to the bee: A study by the Center for Biological Diversity has found that plants and animals with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be moving toward recovery than species without it.

“The rusty patched bumblebee has lost nearly 100% of its historic habitat, so it’s critical that the Service moves quickly to provide the habitat protection it needs to survive,” said Ryan Shannon, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Critical habitat protections are essential to preserving the bee’s last, best remaining habitat.”

“This is welcome progress to help protect Minnesota’s official state bee,” said Tom Casey, board chair of Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas.

The Endangered Species Act requires the Service to designate critical habitat for listed species, with few exceptions.

Background

Once common in the Midwest and Northeast, the rusty patched bumblebee has suffered an 87% decline and was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2017 after a petition from the Xerces Society followed by an NRDC lawsuit. The Service then failed to designate critical habitat by the statutory deadline, prompting another lawsuit by NRDC in 2019.

A legal agreement with NRDC requiring the agency to move forward with a decision on critical habitat in summer of 2020 resulted in the Service concluding that it could not determine critical habitat for the bee, which prompted the current lawsuit.

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, who are not native to the United States. Wild pollinator declines across North America are caused by habitat loss, agricultural intensification, pesticide use, invasive 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 one of only two bees in the continental United States currently protected under the Endangered Species Act. Franklin’s bumblebee was listed as endangered in 2021 but last seen in 2006.

The Service currently has before it numerous petitions to list bees, including the Western, American, Southern Plains and Suckley’s bumblebees and solitary Mojave Poppy bee.

RSRusty_patched_bumble_bee_USFWS_FPWC-scr
Rusty patched bumblebee. Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Image is available for media use.

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.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Established in 1970, NRDC uses science, policy, law, and people power to confront the climate crisis, protect public health, and safeguard nature. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, Beijing and Delhi (an office of NRDC India Pvt. Ltd). Visit us at http://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 organized to advocate for the protection, management, and perpetuation of Minnesota’s Scientific and Natural Areas in an undisturbed natural state. These 160+ scientific and natural areas are the “crown jewels” of Minnesota’s state land base and represent a diverse set of natural habitats containing rare and sensitive plant and animal species. FMSNA vigorously defends against actions that threaten the ecological integrity of these areas. Visit us at: www.snafriends.org

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