Update: On February 14, the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Trump administration for delaying the rule.
Last month, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) declared that it was placing the rusty patched bumblebee on the US endangered species list.
The listing would have taken effect February 10, making this nearly extinct bumblebee the very first bumblebee species to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) would also have been the first wild bee species to be declared endangered in the continental US
Now, thanks to an executive order by US President Donald Trump, the listing has been delayed.
The bumblebee was declared endangered during Barack Obama’s last days as the president. On January 20, however, the Trump administration placed a freeze on any rules that have been issued by the Obama administration but haven’t taken effect yet.
Following this order, the FWS announced Thursday that it was postponing the bumblebee’s listing date to March 21.
“In accordance with a January 20, 2017, memo from the White House, we, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, are delaying the effective date of a rule we published on January 11, 2017,” the FWS said. “The effective date of the rule that published on January 11, 2017, at 82 FR 3186, is delayed from February 10, 2017, to March 21, 2017.”
The rusty patched bumblebee is an important pollinator, pollinating a wide variety of plants, including commercially important crops like tomatoes, apples, cranberries and peppers.
The bee was once common across 28 US states and two Canadian provinces. But it has suffered widespread die-offs since the late 1990s, declining drastically by about 87 percent. Only a few small populations of the bumblebee remain today, scattered in 13 US states and one Canadian province. Some populations may be too small to be viable, experts say.
Scientists have not been able to pinpoint the reason for the bee’s decline, but causes may include the loss of habitat, diseases, parasites, exposure to pesticides, climate change, and habitat loss.
Given its precarious status in the wild, the species was listed as endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act in 2010 and as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List in 2015.
Listing under the US Endangered Species Act would have meant that the rusty patched bumblebee would have received additional protection, including a recovery plan and steps to prevent further degradation of its habitat.
“The Trump administration has put the rusty patched bumble bee back on the path to extinction,” Rebecca Riley, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in a statement. “This bee is one of the most critically endangered species in the country and we can save it — but not if the White House stands in the way.”
Riley told the Verge that NRDC is “exploring all options, including litigation.”
“The bee can’t wait,” she added. “It needs the protections of the Endangered Species Act and it needs them now.”