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Monarch butterfly on swamp milkweed. Jim Hudgins / USFWS

The population of monarch butterflies that spend winter along the California coast dropped 86 percent since 2017, according to a recent count by the Xerces Society, an invertebrate conservation group.

Preliminary results from the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, an annual citizen science program, recorded less than 30,000 butterflies overwintering in California, a significant decline from the estimated 192,000 in 2017. The official numbers will be released later this month.

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NPS Photo / Kevyn Jalone

On World Animal Day, we celebrate all the furry, scaly, winged and finned creatures that inhabit our planet.

On this international day of action, participants aim to "raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe," according to organizers at the UK-based charity Naturewatch Foundation. The occasion was first celebrated in 1925 and is observed annually on Oct. 4.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

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.

The rusty patched bumble bee, which can be identified by a rust-colored patch on its abdomen, was once a commonly seen pollinator from the midwest to the east coast. Unfortunately, scientists believe that it has disappeared from 87 percent of its historic range since the 1990s and that its population has declined by a startling 95 percent.

Rusty patched bumble bee.Dan Mullen

The rusty patched bumble bee is now listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act in Canada and as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but little is being done in the U.S. to ensure that these bumble bees and their habitat are protected.

But now, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed endangered species protection for the rare bumble bee. If the proposal goes through, it would be the first bee species in history to receive federal protection in the U.S.

The rusty patched bumble bee faces a host of threats ranging from habitat loss and degradation to climate change, disease, the spread of pathogens from bees who are raised and sold commercially and the widespread use of herbicides and pesticides.

Their advocates have been raising concerns for years that their extinction is imminent if we do nothing to stop it.

In 2013, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to get the rusty patched bumble bee listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but the agency didn't respond. A year later, the Xerces Society, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), sued the Department of the Interior and the FWS in an effort to get this bee protected.

Last year the agency finally announced that protection may be warranted, and has followed up with more good news this month that it is now formally proposing protectionfor them under the ESA.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service has relied upon the best available science and we welcome the proposal to list the rusty patched bumble bee as an endangered species," said Rich Hatfield, senior conservation biologist at the Xerces Society.

"Addressing the many threats that the rusty patched bumble bee faces―from neonicotinoid pesticides to disease―will help not only this species, but countless other native pollinators that are so critical to the functioning of natural ecosystems and agriculture."

The Xerces Society points out, they don't just play an incredibly valuable role in pollinating crops we rely on, providing a service that's estimated to be worth billions of dollars, they also pollinate native plants that provide food for other species. Losing this bumble bee would be huge loss for a world that relies heavily on pollinators for survival.

"This decision comes not a moment too soon," said Rebecca Riley, senior attorney with the NRDC.

"Bee populations―including thousands of species of wild bees―are in crisis across the country, and the rusty patched bumble bee is one of the most troubling examples. Today's decision is a critical step forward. If finalized, the endangered species protections will improve the health of our ecosystem as well as the security of our national food supply."

The agency will be accepting public comments until Nov. 21, 2016. If you would like to make one in support of listing the rusty patched bumble bee as a protected species, you can submit one at Regulations.gov.

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