(CN) – Protections for the rusty patched bumblebee are on hold thanks to an executive order freezing regulations finalized during the last months of President Obama’s term. The delay could spell disaster for this native pollinator, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council conservation group.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service made a finding, and it was that if we don’t do anything now, the rusty patched bumblebee will go extinct, and it will go extinct soon,” said Rebecca Riley, a senior attorney who specializes in wildlife issues for the NRDC. “If the Trump administration were to come in and reverse that decision, it would be illegal, and we would strongly consider challenging it in court.”
The bee’s listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was due to become effective on Feb. 10. The incoming president did not waste any time in freezing regulations that had been finalized, but which were not yet in effect, as the edict was among the orders signed Jan. 20, the first day of the new administration. Final regulations are usually effective 30 to 60 days after publication, but the effective date for some regulations can be longer.
While such a regulatory freeze is not unusual when a new administration takes office, in this case, successive Executive Orders and nominations of anti-environment department heads for environment-related agencies have signaled an administrative sea-change for protections for endangered species. Rep. Ryan Zinke awaits confirmation as head of the Department of Interior, which oversees ESA implementation through the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“If Zinke acts as he did in Congress, he will bring untold harm to native wildlife and America’s public lands,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the conservation group Center for Biological Diversity. “During his short time in Congress, Zinke voted against public lands, endangered species and the environment 97 percent of the time. And when it came to endangered species, he voted against protecting them 100 percent of the time.”
The NRDC noted that “several members of the GOP announced earlier this month that they would ‘love to invalidate’ the Endangered Species Act. If the party gets its way, which now seems eminently more possible, the animals would lose their habitat protections anywhere they conflict with mining, oil and gas, or timber operations.”
The rusty patched bumblebee is so endangered that it was listed under the ESA just four months after it was proposed for listing, a process that normally takes a full year. The NRDC partnered with the Xerces Society to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for not timely acting on the Xerces Society’s 2013 petition.
The rusty patched bee is not the only pollinator species to receive ESA protection in recent years, as pollinators in this country and world-wide are in crisis due to pesticide use, development, climate change and other threats. Native species provide agricultural pollination services that are worth $9 billion annually in this country alone, according the Xerces Society.
“We [Americans] use persistent and highly toxic insecticides in a prophylactic manner, rather than in response to a specific threat,” Rich Hatfield, senior endangered species conservation biologist with the Xerces Society said. “This puts our beneficial insects in harm’s way unnecessarily.”
“To be honest, only time will tell if this listing will help to save the rusty patched bumblebee,” Clay Bolt, a natural history and conservation photographer, said “It is a very bad decline, and we’re already late in doing something about this.” Bolt partnered with the Xerces Society and others to produce a documentary film, A Ghost in the Making: Searching for the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee.
Given that the bees’ populations have declined by at least 87 percent over the past two decades, and that even the service has acknowledged that some of the holdout colonies may no longer exist, it is clear that the fate of these bees hangs in the balance. Even if the new administration allows the listing to take effect, the next step in the process of protecting the bees, designation of critical habitat, faces a challenge from another executive order, signed Jan. 30, requiring the repeal of two previous regulations for each new proposed regulation.
The NRDC is not the only environmental group poised to take legal action against the new executive orders. “Trump is again demonstrating that he has no interest in governing this nation for the benefit of its people or to protect our environment,” Suckling said. “Instead, he’s fixated on realizing the fantasies of the most unhinged, right-wing extremists and profiteers who view government protections as nothing more than an impediment to their profits. We will fight this dangerous and nonsensical executive order in court anywhere it rears its ugly head.”