One more gift of protection:
The Obama administration, rushing to secure its environmental legacy, has increased protection for a humble bumblebee.
The rusty-patched bumblebee, once common across the continental United States, has been designated an endangered species by the Fish and Wildlife Service: the country’s first bumblebee, and the first bee from the lower 48 states, to be added to the register. Seven bees were previously listed as endangered, but they are found only in Hawaii.
Since the late 1990s, the population of the rusty-patched bumblebee has declined by nearly 90 percent, a result of a combination of factors, including exposure to pesticides, climate change, habitat loss and disease, federal wildlife officials said. The species, once found in 28 states, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces, is found today only in small pockets of its once-sprawling habitat. The designation will accelerate efforts to protect the bees’ habitat and to reduce the use of pesticides that are killing them.
It is the latest in a flurry of last-minute efforts to protect the environment and preserve President Obama’s legacy on climate change. In the last month, he has issued a permanent ban on offshore oil and gas drilling in large areas of the Arctic and much of the Eastern Seaboard; announced two new national monuments in Utah and Nevada, protecting 1.65 million acres of federal land; and denied six permits for oil exploration in the Atlantic, partly because the seismic testing harms marine animals.
And the announcement about the bee came a day after the Fish and Wildlife Service said that human-caused climate change is the biggest threat to the polar bear’s survival, and that without significant action to fight global warming, the bears will most likely vanish.
Federal wildlife officials noted that the process of listing a species as endangered can take years, sometimes even decades. More than 300 species have been listed during the Obama administration, second only to the more than 500 species listed under President Bill Clinton.
During the George W. Bush administration, just 62 species were added to the list. Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group, said activists were worried “that we’re headed into another period like that, where hostility from the administration toward protecting endangered species causes them to shut the listing program down.”
The incoming Trump administration, however, would need to undertake a lengthy process to declare the rusty-patched bumblebee population recovered if it wished to reverse this week’s decision, and it would be required by law to justify its action on scientific grounds.
The role of these bees and other pollen-carrying insects is important, Tom Melius, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest regional director, said in a statement. “Pollinators are small but mighty parts of the natural mechanism that sustains us and our world,” he said. “Without them, our forests, parks, meadows and shrub lands, and the abundant, vibrant life they support, cannot survive, and our crops require laborious, costly pollination by hand.”…
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