The rusty patched bumblebee is being added to the endangered species list after all. Not only is this remarkable because the Trump administration allowed the listing to proceed over objections from fossil-fuel and other business interests, it also highlights the ongoing importance of caring for at-risk pollinators, which, free of charge, play a crucial role in growing the nation’s food and powering its agricultural economy.

“Pollinators are small but mighty parts of the natural mechanism that sustains us and our world,” Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Meliussaid in January. “Without them, our forests, parks, meadows and shrublands, and the abundant, vibrant life they support, cannot survive, and our crops require laborious, costly pollination by hand.” The service reports that insects, mostly bees, contribute some $3 billion of economic value to the United States every year.

Citing “a swift and dramatic decline since the late 1990s,” the service moved to list the species as endangered just before Trump’s inauguration. “Abundance of the rusty patched bumble bee has plummeted by 87 percent, leaving small, scattered populations in 13 states and one Canadian province,” the service warned in a Jan. 10 announcement. The first bumblebee and first bee of any type in the continental United States is now officially protected under the Endangered Species Act. That means the federal government will move to protect the bumblebees’ habitat and restrict activities that drive down their numbers.

They could use the protection. The United States has lost nearly a million honeybee colonies since 1989, when the number peaked at 3.5 million. Bees are resilient creatures, their queens capable of repopulating hives at an astonishing rate. Beekeepers have been able to fight the decline in honeybees, which humans store and truck around the country to provide honey and pollination services, through careful management. But bumblebees and other native species do not get the same sort of commercial attention, even though their “buzz pollination” technique, in which they shake pollen loose by buzzing their wings, is particularly effective at fertilizing plants.

It may not be easy to repopulate the rusty patched bumblebee, however. The creatures must contend with shrinking habitat, climate change and pesticide use.

Editorial by The Washington Post

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