On January 11, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) was forced to delay protection of the Rusty Patch Bumblebee, a critically endangered native North American species. The Trump administration put a 60-day executive freeze on the protection of the bee, which was slated to join the list of federally protected endangered species. The Rusty Patch Bumblebee is a pollinator of many North American crops, including blueberries and tomatoes. Over the past 20 years the population has decreased over 90 percent, and experts fear that without protection the population will dwindle rapidly (Trump Freeze Blocks Bee, 2017). President Donald Trump believes that protecting the environment is not economically viable for the United States, but what could be more important than protecting the pollinators of crops that not only feed our nation, but also bring in revenue?

        When choosing species to protect, the FWS must consider many factors, including: if the species’ habitat has been seriously degraded, if the species is threatened by disease, or if manmade factors are contributing to its demise (National Wildlife Federation). For the Rusty Patch Bee, climate change has reduced its habitat, pathogens have destroyed  the population, and human use of pesticides has led to the decline of the bee population, all of which qualify it for federal protection. Once listed, a species and its habitat receive many safeguarding measures. Experiments conducted by the University of Arizona clearly show that protecting the habitat of pollinating species greatly increases the local abundance of the pollinators (Nabhan 2014).

        When temperatures are elevated, as they are now, species populations normally redistribute to areas of colder temperatures, like the poles or areas at higher elevation. Unfortunately, bee species throughout North America are failing to adjust. As a result, they are disappearing from their southernmost habitats (Carswell, 2015). Furthermore, bumblebee populations have declined with the increased use of neonicotinoid insecticides, which attack the central nervous system of the bumblebee and result in paralysis and eventual death. The Rusty Patch Bumblebee also absorbs many pesticides through its exoskeleton, and through contaminated pollen and nectar.  

        The loss of the Rusty Patch Bumblebee would severely damage the agriculture industry in America. Without the bees to pollinate the crops, the crops will suffer too. Many crops and their pollinators are particularly loyal to each other. This relationship is the product of coevolution, a mechanism by which species adapt over time in ways that help them to survive but establish dependency on one another. This is especially true for native species of bees in North America. According to the University of Arizona (2014), native species of bees are far more likely to remain loyal to their crops than the naturalized European honeybee, which is often introduced into the environment to pollinate.

        One proposed suggestion to boost population numbers of the endangered bee is to breed the bee in captivity, as many bees (such as the European bees) are specialized for agricultural purposes. However, according to a study conducted by the University of Illinois (2016), the commercial bumblebee industry has been responsible for the increase in fungal infections of bees. One particular fungus, Nosema bombi, attacks bumblebees and honeybees alike and is attributed to much of the loss of bee populations throughout North America. N. bombi is a pathogen that is passed down to future generations, typically from the queen. It infects the Malpighian tubules (the excretory and osmoregulatory organ in bees), as well as the thorax muscles, fat tissue, nerve tissue, and muscle tissue surrounding the gut (Otti & Schmid-Hempel, 2007). Researchers warn that breeding the Rusty Patch Bee in captivity is not recommended as a means to save the species from extinction as it may in fact accelerate harm to the species by reducing genetic diversity and spreading fungal infection. As a result, the best solution to saving the bumblebee and our crops alike is conservation and protection of their habitat.

        Trump wishes to and has begun to make large cuts to the FWS and the Environmental Protection Agency because environmental conservation is not a priority for his administration. It is a common belief of many politicians that conservation can only be prioritized if there is an economic advantage. While not necessarily the most ethical plan in terms of animal rights or biodiversity, it can be considered, in some ways, sensible. Flora and fauna can only be given protection when their protection costs less than the benefit of preserving the species. Thankfully, the cost of preserving the Rusty Patch Bee is low compared to the beneficial savings of keeping the species alive. The entire budget for the FWS (which includes much more than just bumblebee conservation) in 2016 was under $3 million (Budget Justifications, 2016). According to the FWS (2017), bee pollination services are worth an estimated $3 billion dollars.

        According to Rebecca Riley, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the environmental group that is suing the Trump administration over the protection of the bee, “there is no legitimate reason to delay federal protections for this bee.” The NRDC is suing because the Department of the Interior took action to suspend protection after it had already been published in January in the Federal Register. It is against U.S. law to postpone a listing in the Federal Register without official public notification or an opportunity for opposing groups to comment (Williams, 2017). Trump’s efforts to cut back on environmental protection and delay conservation of pollinators like the Rusty Patch Bee will harm not only the biodiversity of the country, but will also lead to decreasing profits in the agricultural industry. Unless of course Trump fulfills his promise to create jobs by hiring Americans to pollinate crops with Q-tips.


REFERENCES

  1. Carswell, C. (2015). Bumble Bees Being Crushed by Climate Change. Science. Retrieved from http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/07/bumblebees-being-crushed-climate-change
  2. Fish and Wildlife Services. (2016). Federal Budget Justifications.
  3. Nabhan, G. P. (2014) Food Chain Restoration: Reconnection Pollinators with their Plants. University of Arizona. Retrieved from https://swc.arizona.edu/news/food-chain-restoration-reconnecting-pollinators-their-plants
  4. National Wildlife Federation. Endangered Species Act. Retrieved from http://www.nwf.org/Wildlife/Wildlife-Conservation/Endangered-Species-Act.aspx
  5. Otti, O. & Schmid-Hempel, P. (2007). Nosema bombi: A Polinator Parasite with Detrimental Fitness Effects. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology. 96-2 Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022201107000705
  6. Science. (2017). Trump Freeze Blocks Bee from Joining Endangered Species List. Retrieved from http://www.sciencemag.org/news/sifter/trump-freeze-blocks-bee-joining-endangered-species-list
  7. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2017). Fact Sheet: Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis). Retrieved from https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/rpbb/factsheetrpbb.html
  8. Williams, W. (2017). Every Day Counts: Group Sues Trump for Stalling Rusty Patch Bumblebee Protection. Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2017/0215/Every-day-counts-Group-sues-Trump-for-stalling-rusty-patch-bumblebee-protection
  9. Yates, D. (2016). Study Suggests Commercial Bumble Bee Industry Amplified a Fungal Pathogen of Bees. University of Illinois. Retrieved from https://news.illinois.edu/blog/view/6367/346838

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