Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 5, 2023

Contact:

Jess Tyler, (406) 366-4872, jtyler@biologicaldiversity.org

Lawsuit Launched to Protect American Bumblebees, Three Other Bee Species

Administration’s Failure to Protect Bees Across U.S. Could Harm Food Supply, Native Plants, Ecosystems

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect four imperiled bee species, including American bumblebees, under the Endangered Species Act. Southern Plains bumblebees, variable cuckoo bumblebees and blue calamintha bees are also included in today’s filing.

“The Biden administration has failed to step up for pollinators, but we won’t let them go extinct without a fight,” said Jess Tyler, a staff scientist at the Center and petition co-author. “Your parents’ generation may have seen American bumblebees all over their yards, but now trained biologists spend their summers looking and can’t find any. The loss of one of our most common bumblebees is a scary prospect.”

America’s pollinators are vital to 75% of leading food crops and 90% of wild plants. Bees are highly effective pollinators whose loss would have disastrous consequences for food security and the environment. The Biden administration has not taken any meaningful actions to protect bees, such as reining in the use of neonicotinoid insecticides, which play an outsized role in bee population declines.

North America’s bumblebees have been especially hard hit, with nearly 1 in 4 bumblebee species vulnerable to extinction because of habitat loss, pesticide use, disease and climate chaos. Bumblebee declines are not limited to the most specialized or habitat-limited bees. Even adaptable habitat generalists like American bumblebees are struggling, with their populations plummeting by nearly 90%.

The four bee species in today’s lawsuit have suffered declines in population and range, largely driven by habitat loss, intensive agricultural land use and the related increase of toxic pesticides. Infectious disease, competition from nonnative bees and climate change are also hastening their decline.

Following petitions by the Center and allies to protect the bees under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service found that the American bumblebee, variable cuckoo bumblebee, and blue calamintha bee may warrant protection under the Act. The Service has failed to meet its legal requirement to decide if listing the Southern Plains bumblebee may be warranted, or to make a listing determination within the required 12-month period for any of these four bee species.

Species Highlights

American bumblebee — Once found in 47 of the lower 48 states, this iconic bumblebee now inhabits only 35 states after declining by 89% in the last two decades. They’re social insects who live in colonies that can number in the hundreds, with workers and a single queen. Along with habitat loss and pesticide contamination, disease spillover from domesticated bee colonies is accelerating the bees’ decline.

Southern Plains bumblebee — This bumblebee is native to the perennial grasslands and open woodlands of America’s Great Plains, Midwest and southeastern coastal plains. It has become twice as rare relative to other bees in recent decades as its habitats have degraded and disappeared. This bee has vanished altogether from six states.

Variable cuckoo bumblebee — This is one of the rarest bumblebees in North America, with zero confirmed observations since 1999. Its fascinating life cycle requires it to invade the nests of American bumblebees, tying its fate to a host species in precipitous decline and demonstrating the ripple effects of the loss of a single bee species.

Blue calamintha bee — This metallic blue mason bee relies entirely on two rare flowers found in central Florida’s fragile sand pine scrub ecosystems. Habitat loss to agricultural, commercial and residential development are existential threats to this highly restricted bee. Other threats include pesticides, disease and natural disasters.

American bumblebee
American bumblebee. Photo credit: Katie Lamke, Xerces Society. 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.

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