Due to a memorandum issued at the start of President Donald Trump’s term in office, the first-ever listing of a bee species in the continental U.S. as endangered has been delayed.
The listing of the rusty patched bumblebee as an endangered species was intended to take place on Friday, Feb. 10, according to an announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January regarding the decision.
That move to protect the vital bee species has been pushed back for at least a month. According to a Federal Register notice, the Fish and Wildlife Service is postponing the date of the listing to March 21 due to a memorandum that placed a temporary freeze on any regulations that have been published but have yet to take effect.
The order was given on the first day of the Trump administration, issued by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. The move is a relatively common one, but can have adverse effects on policies such as the protections that were intended to be placed on the rusty patched bumblebee.
The classification as endangered may be vital to the survival of the bee species and figuring out why bees are dying at such a high rate. Once listed, animals considered to be endangered can’t be hunted and their natural habitats cannot be modified in a way that would harm the animal.
The rust patch bumblebee, which is found primarily in the midwest and on the east coast of the country, is essential for pollinating crops. Over the last 20 years, the species has disappeared from 87 percent of its typical range, according to Sarina Jepsen, the director of endangered species for Xerces Society.
Jepsen told International Business Times, "Delays to protecting this already vulnerable pollinator may prove catastrophic." She described the bee as "teetering on the brink of extinction" and said making the bee an endangered species would give it a chance to recover.
"Once listed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has the authority to develop and implement a recovery plan for this species, and activities that push this bumble bee closer to extinction may result in a violation of the Endangered Species Act," she explained. "Now that the Trump administration has intervened, the future of one of America’s most endangered pollinators is far from certain."
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior attorney Rebecca Riley told the Verge, “this bee is critically endangered, it’s one of the most critically endangered species in the United States...the bee can’t wait. It needs the protections of the Endangered Species Act and it needs them now.”
The NRDC is reportedly considering its options to ensure the bee’s listing, including the possibility of litigation.
The Fish and Wildlife Service previously added seven bee species in Hawaii to the endangered species list in hopes of helping curb the extreme losses bees have been facing. But, why are bees dying? Some believe bee populations have been harmed by pesticides, but many scientists believe the unprecedented rate of death for bees is the result of climate change. A study conducted in part by the Department of Agriculture found 44.1 percent of all honeybee colonies were lost in 2015. Similar levels of loss were had for several years prior as well.
If the rusty patched bumblebee does find its way to the endangered list, it may still be in a considerable amount of trouble. A bill proposed by congressional Republicans last month would require government agencies to consider the economic costs related to listing a species as threatened, potentially undermining the protections the Endangered Species Act was designed to provide.