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The American bumblebee may be on the brink of extinction

According to officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the American bumblebee (Bombus pensylvanicus), an essential pollinator for a large variety of plants, wildflowers, and crops, might soon become extinct. Once common across the United States, this species decreased by 89 percent in the past two decades, disappearing completely from eight states, particularly in the Northeast. 

In February 2021, the Center for Biological Diversity warned that the American bumblebee “continues to decline toward extinction due to the disastrous, synergistic impacts of threats,” including habitat loss, climate change, intensification of agricultural practices, the use of new pesticides, evolutionary competition with other species such as the honey bee, loss of genetic diversity, and various types of diseases.  “Its loss will have considerable consequences to whole ecosystems and to crop production,” the Center warned. 

After reviewing the Center’s warning, the FWS recently claimed that adding the American bumblebee to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) “may be warranted” and that the agency will undertake a 12-month review. If the American bumblebee is added to the endangered list, major regulatory changes could be initiated for many industries, including agriculture, real estate, and energy.

The states which witnessed the largest declines in bee populations are the same that have increased pesticide use. According to previous studies, pesticides sprayed on agricultural fields utterly disrupt the bees’ homing systems, causing disorientation and ultimately death. 

“A far-reaching solution would be a fundamental change in the way we build our agricultural operations,” said Keith Hirokawa, a professor of Environmental Law at the Albany Law School. If the bumblebee will be placed under the aegis of the ESA, agricultural developers who threaten it may be exposed to legal liability.

However, until a final decision is reached, the American bumblebee remains at the mercy of its increasingly precarious environments. 

“At this early stage, we can’t speculate on potential impacts of listing on land use, pesticide use, etc.,” FWS spokeswoman Georgia Parham declared. “An understanding of potential impacts of listing will depend on our 12-month finding, in which we determine whether listing is warranted.”   

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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