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Judge: EPA's Approval of Bee-Killing Pesticides Violated Federal Law

A federal court has ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) systematically violated the Endangered Species Act—a key wildlife protection law—when it approved bee-killing insecticides known as neonicotinoids.

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Boulder County, Colorado farm. Photo credit: Flickr

GMO Crops, Bee-Killing Insecticides to Be Banned on Boulder County-Owned Land

Boulder County, Colorado will completely phase out genetically modified (GMO) corn and sugar beets, and neonicotinoid insecticides on county-owned land.

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347 Native Bee Species 'Spiraling Toward Extinction'

In the first comprehensive review of the more than 4,000 native bee species in North America and Hawaii, the Center for Biological Diversity has found that more than half the species with sufficient data to assess are declining. Nearly one in four is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.

The new analysis, Pollinators in Peril: A systematic status review of North American and Hawaiian native bees, revealed that more than 700 species are in trouble from a range of serious threats, including severe habitat loss and escalating pesticide use.

"The evidence is overwhelming that hundreds of the native bees we depend on for ecosystem stability, as well as pollination services worth billions of dollars, are spiraling toward extinction," said Kelsey Kopec, a native pollinator researcher at the Center for Biological Diversity and author of the study. "It's a quiet but staggering crisis unfolding right under our noses that illuminates the unacceptably high cost of our careless addiction to pesticides and monoculture farming.

"The widespread decline of European honeybees has been well documented in recent years. But until now much less has been revealed about the 4,337 native bee species in North America and Hawaii. These mostly solitary, ground-nesting bees play a crucial ecological role by pollinating wild plants and provide more than $3 billion in fruit-pollination services each year in the United States.

The key findings:

  • Among native bee species with sufficient data to assess (1,437), more than half (749) are declining. (Click here to see a list of the bees as well as their status and geographic range).
  • Nearly one in four (347 native bee species) is imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction.
  • Many of the bee species lacking sufficient data are also likely declining or at risk of extinction, highlighting the urgent need for additional research.
  • The declines are caused primarily by habitat loss, heavy pesticide use, climate change and urbanization.

These troubling findings come as a growing body of research has revealed that more than 40 percent of insect pollinators are highly threatened globally, including many of the native bees critical to unprompted crop and wildflower pollination across the U.S.

To assess current population trends and threats as comprehensibly as possible for the 4,337 described species of North American and Hawaiian bees, Center for Biological Diversity staff reviewed the current conservation status of 316 species as established by state, federal or independent research. We then conducted a comprehensive review of all available literature on native bees to determine a status for an additional 1,121 species.

"We're on the verge of losing hundreds of native bee species in the United States if we don't act to save them," said Kopec, who spent more than a year analyzing the data. "Almost 90 percent of wild plants are dependent on insect pollination. If we don't act to save these remarkable creatures, our world will be a less colorful and more lonesome place."

The assessment highlights five imperiled native bees that offer a vivid snapshot of the unchecked threats driving declines in many native bee species:

Yellow carpet solitary bee: This dark, olive-green bee, whose fate is intertwined with its floral host and California's dwindling vernal pools, is severely threatened with extinction.

Sunflower leafcutting bee: This spectacularly large bee used to be seen patrolling sunflower stands throughout the Great Plains; it is now in steep decline and rarely seen.

Wild sweet potato bee: Known for its unique three-lobed snout, this bee, once commonly seen foraging across much of the East, is now dangerously imperiled.

Gulf Coast solitary bee: Completely dependent on the disappearing coastal plain honeycombhead plant and the barrier-island sand dunes where it nests, this bee is now found only within a shrinking portion of its range along the Gulf Coast.

Macropis cuckoo bee: This nest invader, which takes over the nests of other bee species to lay its eggs, was once common across much of central and eastern North America but is now considered that region's most endangered bee.

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Trump Administration Sued for Suspending Protections for Endangered Bumble Bee

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the Trump administration Tuesday for illegally suspending the rule to put the rusty patched bumble bee on the endangered species list. The rusty patched bumble bee has lost approximately 90 percent of its range in the past 20 years. It is the first bumble bee ever listed under the Endangered Species Act.

"The Trump administration broke the law by blocking the rusty patched bumble bee from the endangered species list," Rebecca Riley, senior attorney with the NRDC, said. "The science is clear—this species is headed toward extinction and soon. There is no legitimate reason to delay federal protections for this bee. In this case, the decision to freeze protections for the rusty patched bumble bee without public notice and comment violates the law."

In the case filed in the U.S. District Court in New York City, NRDC asks the court to stop the Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from implementing and enforcing the bumble bee delay order. The White House instructed agencies to withdraw or freeze a broad array of rules issued by the Obama administration to protect public health and the environment.

The suit claims the agencies broke the law by freezing the bumble bee's endangered species listing without public notice or an opportunity for comment. In its complaint, NRDC contends the agencies cannot suspend the listing because the rule was final when published in the Federal Register.

This is the third lawsuit NRDC has filed against the Trump administration for its attacks on regulation. In response to the same regulatory freeze directive, NRDC is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for illegally rescinding a rule that would protect the public from more than five tons of mercury discharges each year. And last week, NRDC joined Public Citizen and Communications Workers of America in seeking to block a Jan. 30 executive order requiring agencies to repeal two existing regulations for each new regulation it puts in place.

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Dead bees in the beehives at Ochlenberg. © Greenpeace / Mike Krishnatreya

'It's Outrageous': EPA Acknowledges Proven Dangers of Bee-Killing Pesticides But Refuses to Restrict Them

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that three of the nation's most-used neonicotinoid pesticides pose significant risks to commercial honey bees. But in a second decision, which represents a deep bow to the pesticide industry, the agency refused to restrict the use of any leading bee-killing pesticides despite broad evidence of their well-established role in alarming declines of pollinators.

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Court Fails to Protect Bees From Toxic Pesticides

A judge in the Northern District of California delivered a crushing blow Monday to the nation's beekeepers and imperiled honeybees. The judge ruled against the beekeepers and public interest advocates in a lawsuit seeking to protect honeybees and the broader environment from unregulated harms caused by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) lax policies for seeds coated with certain insecticides known to cause massive die-offs of honeybees.

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Chafer Machinery / Flickr

EPA Re-Affirms Decision to Allow Toxic Chemical Concoction on Next Generation of GMO Crops

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) re-approved and proposed a dramatic expansion Tuesday of the use of the toxic pesticide Enlist Duo after only a cursory review of troubling data showing the two chemicals in the pesticide combine to have "synergistic" effects that are potentially harmful to endangered species and the environment. If approved the pesticide cocktail could be used on corn, soy and cotton in 34 states—up from 15 states where the product was previously approved for just corn and soy.

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Shocking Number of Top Retailers Sell Food Produced With Pesticides Toxic to Bees

A new report and scorecard grades 20 of the largest food retailers in the U.S on their policies and practices regarding pollinator protection, organic offerings and pesticide reduction.

Of the top food retailers, 17 received an "F" for failing to have a publicly available policy to reduce or eliminate pesticide use to protect pollinators. Only Aldi, Costco and Whole Foods received passing grades in this category.

Four of the top food retailers—Albertsons, Costco, Target and Whole Foods—have adopted a publicly available company commitment to increase offerings of certified organic food or to disclose data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.Friends of the Earth

"U.S. food retailers must take responsibility for how the products they sell are contributing to the bee crisis," said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth. "The majority of the food sold at top U.S. food retailers is produced with pollinator-toxic pesticides. We urge all major retailers to work with their suppliers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and to expand domestic organic offerings that protect pollinators, people and the planet."

Today's report, Swarming the Aisles: Rating Top Retailers on Bee-Friendly and Organic Food, comes amid mounting consumer pressure on food retailers to adopt more environmentally-friendly sourcing policies.

A coalition led by Friends of the Earth and more than 50 farmer, beekeeper, farmworker, environmental and public interest organizations sent a letter urging the food retailers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and increase the U.S. Department of Agriculture certified organic food and beverages to 15 percent of overall offerings by 2025, prioritizing domestic, regional and local producers. This effort follows a campaign by Friends of the Earth and allies that convinced more than 65 garden retailers, including Lowe's and Home Depot, to commit to eliminate bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides.

Bees and other pollinators are essential for one in three bites of food we eat and without them grocery stores would run short of strawberries, almonds, apples, broccoli and more. A growing body of science points to the world's most widely-used insecticides, neonicotinoids, as a leading factor in pollinator declines and glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide worldwide, as a key culprit in monarch butterfly declines.

New data from a YouGov Poll released today by Friends of the Earth and SumOfUs found that 80 percent of Americans believe it is important to eliminate neonicotinoids from agriculture. Among Americans who grocery shop for their household, 65 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that has formally committed to eliminating neonicotinoids. The poll also revealed that 59 percent of American grocery shoppers believe it is important for grocery stores to sell organic food and 43 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that sells more organic food than their current grocery store. The full poll results are available on request.

"Over 750,000 SumOfUs members have spoken out advocating that U.S. Hardware stores take action to protect our pollinators. And after years of pressure, Home Depot and Lowe's have finally enacted more bee-friendly policies," said Angus Wong, lead campaign strategist at SumOfUs, a consumer watchdog with ten million members. "And the findings of this poll show that a vast majority of consumers want to eliminate neonicotinoids from their grocery stores too. This is why food retailers must commit policies that protect our bees immediately."

The report found that while consumer demand for organic and pesticide-free food continues to show double-digit growth, only four of the top food retailers—Albertsons, Costco, Target and Whole Foods—have adopted a publicly available company commitment to increase offerings of certified organic food or to disclose data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales. In addition to these retailers, Aldi, Food Lion, part of the Delhaize Group and Kroger disclosed data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales. None of the retailers have made a publicly available commitment to source organic from American farmers.

"To protect pollinators, we must eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides from our farming systems and expand pollinator-friendly organic agriculture," said Dr. Kendra Klein, staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. "Organic farms support 50 percent more pollinator species than conventional farms. This is a huge opportunity for American farmers. Less than one percent of total U.S. farmland is in organic production—farmers need the support of food retailers to help them transition dramatically more acreage to organic."

Sixteen of the top 20 food retailers were predominately unresponsive to Friends of the Earth's requests for information via surveys, calls and letters. Primary sources of information for this scorecard include publicly available information, including company websites, company annual reports, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports, press coverage and industry analyses.

7 Bees Facing Extinction Added to Endangered Species List for First Time

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has added seven bee species to the endangered species list, a first for bees. Native to Hawaii, these yellow-faced bees are facing extinction due to habitat loss, wildfires and invasive species.

Cantankerous Yellow-faced Bee photographed in Hawai'i County, Hawaii.SteveMlodinow / Flickr

The tiny, solitary bees were once abundant in Hawaii, but surveys in the late 1990s found that many of its traditional sites had been urbanized or colonized by non-native plants. In March 2009, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation petitioned the USFWS to list these bee species as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

"The USFWS decision is excellent news for these bees, but there is much work that needs to be done to ensure that Hawaii's bees thrive," wrote Matthew Shepherd, communications director for Xerces, in a blog post responding to the announcement.

Yellow-faced bees are the most important pollinators for many key trees and shrubs in Hawaii. They once populated the island from the coast up to 10,000 feet on Mauna Kea and Haleakalā. They get their name from yellow-to-white facial markings, and they are often mistaken for wasps.

According to Karl Magnacca, an entomologist with the O'ahu Army Natural Resources Program, the bees evolved in an isolated environment and were unprepared for the changes brought by humans. These included new plants, domestic animals such as cattle and goats, as well as ants and other bees that compete with the native Hawaiian bees.

One of the seven species, Hylaeus anthracites, is now found in just 15 locations on Hawaii, Maui, Kahoolawe, Molokai and Oahu. Protection of these areas could be a start to aid the bees.

"Unfortunately, the USFWS has not designated any 'critical habitat,' areas of land of particular importance for the endangered bees," wrote Shepherd.

The listing comes just a week after the USFWS proposed listing another bee, the rusty patched bumble bee, to the endangered species list. During the past 50 years, about 30 percent of beehives in the U.S. have collapsed, according to the the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On Sept. 9, a new study published in the journal, Scientific Reports, found that the world's most commonly used insecticide, neonicotinoids, caused queen bees to lay fewer eggs and worker bees to be less productive. A Greenpeace investigation of internal studies conducted by chemical makers Bayer and Syngenta showed that these chemicals can harm honeybee colonies when exposed to high concentrations. In January, the EPA found that one of these neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, can be harmful to bees.

The National Pesticide Information Center states unequivocally, "Imidacloprid is very toxic to honeybees and other beneficial insects." The EPA has proposed prohibiting the use of neonicotinoids in the presence of bees.

The USFWS ruling protecting Hawaii's yellow-faced bees becomes effective Oct. 31.

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