The bumblebee is now considered an endangered species in America - the first such designation for a bumblebee and for a bee species in the continental U.S. ever.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the announcement just this past Tuesday, January 10th, and the protected status will go into effect on February 10th. It includes requirements for federal protections and the development of a recovery plan, and that states that have habitats for the species are eligible for federal funds.

"Today's Endangered Species listing is the best—and probably last—hope for the recovery of the rusty patched bumble bee," NRDC Senior Attorney Rebecca Riley said in a statement from the Xerces Society, which advocates for invertebrates. "Bumble bees are dying off, vanishing from our farms, gardens, and parks, where they were once found in great numbers."

Large parts of the Eastern and Midwestern United States once had an abundance of the bees, but they've suffered a dramatic decline in the last 20 years due to habitat loss and degradation, along with pathogens and pesticides.

Before the mid-1990s, the bee could be found in 31 states and Canadian provinces. But since 2000, it has been reported in only 13 states and Ontario, Canada. It's experienced an 88 percent decline in the number of populations and an 87 percent loss in the amount of territory it inhabits.

That means that even without further habitat loss or insecticide exposure, the bees could become extinct.

Christy Leavitt of Environment American says that “protecting the rusty patched bumblebee and all bees is essential for our ecosystem and our food supply. If bees go extinct, it’s simple: no bees, no food."

Rebecca Rile, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council added, “Today’s Endangered Species listing is the best — and probably last — hope for the recovery of the rusty patched bumblebee."

Here's how you can help:

  1. If you have a garden or other plants minimize your use of pesticides. Systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids are taken up by the vascular systems of plants. This means bees and other pollinators are exposed to the poison long after a product has been applied when they feed on the plants’ nectar and pollen.

  2. If you don't already have one, grow a garden, native flowering tree or shrub, provide nectar and pollen for food. Active from early spring through late fall, bumble bees need access to a variety of nectar- and pollen-producing flowers so food will be available throughout all stages of the insects’ life cycle. Native plants are best because they have co-evolved with indigenous bumble bees.

  3. Protect the bees hibernation habitat. As most queens overwinter in small holes on or just below the ground’s surface, avoid raking, tilling or mowing your yard until April or May. If you do need to mow, do so with the mower blade set at the highest safe level.

  4. Create nesting sites for bees. For example, a bundle of hollow canes could make a home for solitary bees. Some bumblebee species will take up residence in something as simple as an upturned plant pot with holes provisioned with bedding, and located in a secure, shady area. I gardens, they may also use compost piles or unoccupied birdhouses.

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