U.S. Government Sued By Activists Seeking Endangered Status of Bees Vital To Pollinating Staple Crops
While most people don’t give much thought, if any, to how important bees are to our lives by pollinating some of our most basic fruits, vegetables, and grains, activists are taking notice and making efforts to stop their declining numbers in the wild, resulting from multiple threats including habitat destruction, pesticides, and pathogens.
To really understand the important role of bees, Achim Steiner, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, says, “The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.”
In the United States, an important pollinator that conservation groups are currently trying to protect is the rusty patch bumble bee, which is an important pollinator of crops including tomatoes, apples, cranberries, blueberries, and alfalfa.
Last year, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation together with the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have the rusty patch bumble bee considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
To understand the process, under the law, the Secretary of the Interior is required to make an initial response, within 90 days, of whether or not a petition provides enough information to support a protection request.
If the Secretary finds that there is enough information that a species might be considered for protection, then the agency has up to a year to make a final decision on the protection status.
Then, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is legally responsible for listing decisions for species such as the rusty patch. Neither agency ever responded to this initial petition
Earlier this year, the conservation groups filed a complaint with the District Court in Washington, D.C., urging the court to order the agencies to make a 90-day finding and publish it in the Federal Register. A decision is still pending.
The conservation groups explained that among the reasons this particular bee is important is because of its ability to buzz pollinate, which means that the vibrations or buzzing from its wings dislodge plant pollen and facilitate the fertilization process.
A number of our staple foods such as the tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplants, blueberries, and cranberries can only be fertilized through buzz pollination, and there are very few types of bees can do this kind of pollination.
Honeybees don’t buzz pollinate, and the San Francisco online magazine Bay Nature explains that many of the plants that do produce these staples crops “do not produce nectar, so honeybees ignore them anyway.”