A group of environmentalists who say a once-common bumble bee should be designated as an endangered species has filed a lawsuit against several U.S. federal agencies.
"The leading hypothesis suggests that disease may be playing a role" in the bumble bee's dwindling numbers, said Sarina Jepsen, Reuters reported
. Jepsen is a program director at the Xerces Society, based in Portland, Oregon, which filed the lawsuit along with the Natural Resources Defense Council against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Interior Department.
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Jepsen said the rusty patched bumble bee species may have picked up diseases from non-native bees brought in by tomato producers.
In addition to disease, the environmentalists claim the declining population has been caused by pesticides and the destruction of the bees’ habitat.
Jepsen said there are no bees currently on the endangered species list, although several Hawaiian yellow-faced bees are being considered for the designation.
In 2013, The Xerces Society petitioned the Interior Department to consider the endangered listing for the bumble bee and decided to sue after receiving no response, Jepsen said. The society said on its website that the rusty patched bumble bee
is “an eastern bee whose workers have a small, rust-colored patch on the middle of their second abdominal segment.”
“This bee was once commonly distributed throughout the east and upper Midwest of the United States, but has declined from an estimated 87% of its historic range in recent years,” the website states. “The rusty patched bumble bee is an excellent pollinator of wildflowers, cranberries, and other important crops, including plum, apple, alfalfa, and onion seed.”
Honey bees have also experienced significant population declines in recent years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to release a report this week on the honey bee losses. Environmentalists claim pesticides are to blame while those in the chemical industry say parasites are the culprit.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said it could not comment directly on pending litigation but that it looks carefully at each petition to decide whether there is a need for more federal protections.
The rusty patched bumble bee has been protected since 2010 while its habitat has been protected since January of this year under Ontario, Canada’s Endangered Species Act, according to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
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