In January of 2013, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and two bee scientist Dr. Robin Thorp and Elaine Evans submitted a petition for the ESA-Endangered Species Act list for the rusty patched bumble bee –Bombus affinis to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. The final rule was published in the Federal Registry on Wednesday, January 11, 2017; establishing the rusty patched bumble bee under the Endangered Species Act. This means that it will be protected from activities that can cause its extinction, taking effect March 21, 2017!
This is the first bumble bee in the continental United States to be under ESA. There are 47 Bombus species in North America. Bombus affinis range from Eastern North Dakota to Maine and Quebec, and south of North Georgia, but it has now lost more than 87% of its range since the latest 1990s according to the Xerces Society.
Several studies from the 1990s to 2000s showed this bumble bee decline severely, and the primary reasons are pathogens and pesticides, along with habitat loss and climate change. Because B. affinis is managed for crop pollination in greenhouses for tomatoes and peppers, it is believed Nosema Bombi, a pathogen problem for managed bumble bees is being transmitted to wild bumble bees outside greenhouses when managed ones get loose and interact.
In 2013 the Xerces Society launched a citizen science project designed to collect data on bumble bee abundance and distribution –Bumble Bee Watch, which is worth checking out! Also, Clay Bolt (a natural history photographer) worked on making a serious & beautiful film – A ghost in the making, which everybody should watch and share.
Even though this final rule is critical to protecting the rusty patched bumble bee and a milestone in pollinator conservation, there is more work to do. That is why urban gardens, home gardens and strips of habitat for pollinators in farmland are so important, not to mentioned being informed!
So, if you would like to know more about this remarkable achievement and ways to help out visit Species profile, and if you wish to start a more serious research about Bombus affinis you should check out this first: Permits for Native Species under the Endangered Species Act and Endangered Species Regional Contacts.