The rusty patched bumblebee has ventured into new territory: the endangered species list.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) added the bee to the list Tuesday, earning it the sad honor as the first-ever bumblebee in the U.S. with the endangered designation, according to the federal agency.
The bee has seen a dramatic population decline in the past 20 years.
“Listing the bee as endangered will help us mobilize partners and focus resources on finding ways right now to stop the decline,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius in a press release.
The bee, with its namesake rust-colored marking on its back, used to be found all over the East Coast and throughout the Midwest. Today they remain in 13 states and one Canadian province (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin — and the province of Ontario). The population has plummeted 87 percent since the 1990s, according to the FWS.
Part of the blame for the bee’s decline can be attributed to a combination of destroyed habitat, disease, climate change and pesticides. But don’t despair entirely, says Melius from the FWS. People can plant native flowers to help the pollinators gather pollen and nectar before it goes into hibernation in the fall. Another way to help: limit or stop using pesticides in gardens.
The nonprofit American Farm Bureau Federation saw the listing as a risky move, according to the Associated Press. The group is worried the designation could lead to expensive regulation for land or chemical use. The FWS estimated that insects’ pollination services (mostly by bees) are valued around $3 billion in the United States.
In a blog post Wednesday, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation applauded the listing, but noted more work is needed to save the bees, especially when it comes to cutting back on insecticides. “Whether you grow food or just eat it, value vibrant wildlands or just relax in your garden, recovery of this species is in everyone’s best interest — and we Xerces will roll up our sleeves to join you for the work ahead,” wrote Sarina Jepsen, the group’s director of endangered species and aquatic conservation.
Now’s the time.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.