Conservation and science leaders renewed their call today demanding the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture protect bumblebees in light of numerous threats contributing to population declines.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Defenders of Wildlife and entomology professor Dr. Robbin Thorp asked agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack to take action on a petition to regulate the movement of commercial bumblebees to help control the spread of parasites and pathogens to wild bumblebees—at least one species of which may already have been driven to extinction.
To prevent the spread of disease to wild populations of agriculturally significant bee pollinators, petitioners asked U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to use its authority to regulate commercial bumblebees. Specifically, the petitioners want APHIS to create rules prohibiting the movement of bumblebees outside their native ranges and regulate interstate movement of bumblebee pollinators within their native ranges by requiring permits that show the bumblebees are disease-free before being transported.
The letter comes nearly four years after an initial petition for rulemaking, which asked the APHIS to regulate the movement of commercial bumblebees to help control the spread of parasites to wild bees. The agency has not responded, despite dramatic declines in several native bee populations across the country. Researchers believe that pathogens transmitted by commercial bumblebees are likely part of the problem, prompting the call for agency intervention to help stem native bumblebee losses and avert the associated impacts on the U.S. food system.
“It has been almost four years since we filed our petition asking that APHIS regulate the movement of commercial bumblebees,” said Sarina Jepsen, endangered species program director at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “Several species of bumblebees are in steep decline and it is urgent that APHIS take action soon to protect these important pollinators.”
Bumblebee pollination is essential to the reproduction of many crops and native flowering plants, and pathogens of bumblebees can act as indirect plant pests that pose a significant threat to agriculture and native ecosystems.
“Without immediate agency intervention we will likely continue to see a dramatic decline in bumblebee pollinators with perilous and potentially irreversible consequences,” Giulia Good Stefani, attorney with NRDC said. “One-third of the food on our plates depends on pollinators. A failure to protect our bumblebees has direct implications for the health of the ecosystems that depend on them and for the security of our food supply.”
The unregulated interstate movement of bumblebees outside their native ranges may already have introduced diseases that have led to the rapid endangerment of four formerly common bee pollinators and the possible extinction of a fifth bumblebee. The last reported sighting of a Franklin’s bee (Bombus franklini) was in August 2006, and, without regulation, the western bumblebee (Bombus occidentalis), the rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis), the yellow-banded bumblebee (Bombus terricola), and the American bumblebee (Bombus pensylvanicus) are each in danger of disappearing throughout significant portions of their distribution ranges.
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