In a continued effort to save declining bee populations from an onslaught of habitat loss, pesticides, and diseases carried by commercial bees, conservation groups are enlisting the protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and UC Davis entomologist Robbin Thorp have petitioned to include Franklin’s Bumblebee under the Endangered Species act, after Thorp documented their decline from 94 bees in 1994, to 1 bee in 2006, to none since in a recent survey supported by the U.S. Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. Petitions for other species of wild bees are being prepared as well.
The plight of the honeybee has “come to symbolize a deepening ecological crisis in North America,” according to Earth Island Journal, but the disappearance of the bumblebee has gotten far less public attention. Bumblebees pollinate 15% of crops grown in the U.S. each year, worth $3 billion. The hothouse tomato industry, in particular, is dependent on commercial bumblebees. But diseases spread by bees imported from Europe ( allowed for the first time in 85 years by the U.S. in 2005 to meet pollination demands), habitat loss, and the “chemical cocktail” of pesticides that bees drink off of cultivated crops have put wild honeybees and bumblebees in dire peril. Loss of these pollinators is endangering many species of plants as well. Since plant-pollinator interaction is so specific, the loss of even one type of bee can spell disaster for the plants it has adapted to pollinate. The Xerces Society of Portland, along with conservation groups and scientists, have called on the federal government to start regulating the import of commercial bees from Europe in order to protect the health and habitat of native wild bees. The executive director of the Xerces Society declared: “The decline in Franklin’s bumblebee should serve as an alarm that we are starting to lose important pollinators…. We hope that Franklin’s bumblebee will remind us to prevent pollinators across the U.S. from sliding toward extinction.”