How to Help the First Endangered Bee Species

By Annie Thornton, Houzz

This week, the rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) became the first bee in the contiguous United States to be officially listed as an endangered species. The native bumblebee, once prevalent in the eastern U.S. and upper Midwest, will now receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in an effort to prevent its extinction.

Related: How to Add a Beehive in Your Backyard

“The significance of its listing is enormous,” says Rich Hatfield, senior endangered species conservation biologist at the Xerces Society. “It is an acknowledgement from the Fish and Wildlife Service that this species has indeed undergone significant precipitous decline, and is deserving of federal action to protect it from extinction.”

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Steve Evans, original photo on Houzz

Why the rusty patched bumblebee is important.

Native bees, of which there are nearly 4,000 in the U.S., are important pollinators of wildflowers and food crops. Many have seen their numbers dwindle over the years due to factors like disease, habitat loss and insecticide use.

The rusty patched bumblebee, one of the first species of bees to emerge from hibernation each spring, has felt this impact heavily over recent decades. Since the late 1990s, its decline has been swift, with the Fish and Wildlife Service estimating a population loss of 87 percent. The rusty patch bumblebee once inhabited 28 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces. Today it resides in small, isolated pockets in only 13 states and one Canadian province — an 87 percent loss of its historic geographic range, according to the Xerces Society.

Related: Ask Local Landscaping Companies for More Advice on How to Save the Bees

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Holm Design & Consulting LLC, original photo on Houzz

What their protection means.

With this listing, the Fish and Wildlife Service can now regulate actions that may harm this species more or prevent its recovery. “This potentially includes the use of pesticides, the distribution of commercial bumblebees and the conversion of natural habitat — along with many other factors,” Hatfield says.

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Maria Hickey & Associates Landscapes, original photo on Houzz

How you can help.

While these bees will now receive federal protection to aid in their recovery, there’s plenty we can do to help them, as well as the many other native bees, in our own backyards.

“The best thing that homeowners can do is to create habitat,” Hatfield says. He says that rusty patched bumblebees and other pollinators need three things to survive:

• Native forage flowers for adult bees from early spring through fall.
• A bee-safe yard that doesn’t have diseases or pesticides on flowering plants.
• A secure place for bees to build their nests and overwinter. Do not disturb a bumblebee nest in the landscape.

Related: Include These 6 Plants in Your Garden to Attract Wildlife

By providing food and habitat, homeowners can encourage native bee populations and help protect against future wildlife loss.

Get involved with the Xerces Society: Bring Back the Pollinators campaign

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