Now That Bees Are Endangered, The Rest Is Up To Us

We’ve known about threats facing bees for some time now, and the problem has received a great deal of attention. What makes this noteworthy?

There are 4,000 different types of native bee species in North America, and so this is really the first time bees have ever been listed under the Endangered Species Act. That’s really important. We know there has been a rapid decline of a lot of different types of bees. We are aware of honeybees’ decline because beekepeers are keeping track. For these specific species in Hawaii, there have been indications since the ‘80s that they were declining at an alarming rate. So the fact that they’re putting in place some protections for the species is really significant and an important precedent for other native bee species, as well as our honeybees.

Are there other species nearing endangered status, too?

One of the other native bee species that has been under consideration by the Fish and Wildlife Service is the rusty patched bumblebee. There are lots of indications that it’s also declining at a pretty alarming rate, as much as 95 percent. The state of Vermont and Canada already have it listed under their endangered species acts.

Beyond that, there is unfortunately not enough research for each of the individual bee species out there. One hopeful initiative for me is that Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) has introduced a discussion draft of a bill, the Pollinator Recovery Act of 2016. What’s strong about this bill is that it sets up a monitoring program for the species through the [U.S. Department of Agriculture], so that we can track what’s going on with these populations and get more concrete data so that, before we’re at the point where we’re at with the rusty patched bumblebee, we can hopefully prevent that sort of rapid decline from happening.

Do you get the sense that there is political will on that particular legislation to address this?

I think from my conversations on Capitol Hill, both sides of the aisle recognize that this is a really dire situation that needs to be addressed right now. It’s gaining bipartisan support which I think is really important. I think President Obama’s pollinator strategy memorandum he put out a couple of years ago set a really important precedent and there’s a lot more we can build on to get really strong protections for pollinators in the U.S.

I get the sense that because this issue has been known about for some time, with colony collapse disorder in particular, some people make light of it, like it’s a punchline. How do you react to that?

I think I just have to remind everybody that without bees and other pollinators, we wouldn’t be able to eat a lot of the nutritious and delicious food we eat on a daily basis. It’s not just the beautiful honeybees that are so important, but the hundreds of thousands of species around the world that all need to be protected.

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