Wildlife Agency Sued in Bee Brouhaha

by Andy Schwab

On Monday, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), claiming the federal agency has failed to make decisions regarding Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for four bee species, including the nearly ubiquitous American bumblebee.

In a lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in Tucson, the nonprofit organization claiming more than 89,000 members seeks final determinations on petitions filed by conservations groups to afford protections to the American bumblebee, Southern Plains bumblebee, variable cuckoo bumblebee and blue calamintha bee.

“America’s bumblebees are in deep trouble, and it’s critical for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop their plunge toward extinction,” said Jess Tyler, the center’s scientist who authored the bumblebee petitions, in a news release. “The decline of native bees across the U.S. is a preventable tragedy. We still have time to save these life-bringing pollinators.”

In its suit, the center claimed that more than half of assessed native bees are suffering from declining populations. In a 2017 report on the status of all North American and Hawaiian native bees, the nonprofit found that for bee species for which sufficient data was available, nearly one in four was imperiled and at increasing risk of extinction. The analysis cited habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change as the primary drivers of population declines. Read the report here: https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/….

ESA LISTING HOW-TO

Under the provisions of the ESA, interested people may petition the USFWS to list a species as endangered or threatened. This process includes deadlines requiring the federal agency to make up to three decisions in response to listing petitions within prescribed time frames.

Within 90 days of receiving a listing petition, the USFWS must “to the maximum extent practicable,” make an initial finding as to whether the petition “presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted.” If this “90-day finding” indicates that listing a species “may be warranted,” the agency must publish that finding and proceed with a scientific review of the species’ status, which is known as a “status review.”

Upon completion of this review, and within one year from the date upon which it received the petition, the USFWS must make a “12-month finding” with one of three determinations: listing is “warranted,” “not warranted” or “warranted but precluded” by other pending proposals for listing species, provided certain circumstances are present.

If the USFWS concludes that listing is “warranted,” the agency must publish notice in the Federal Register of a proposed regulation to list the species as endangered or threatened and take public comment on the proposed listing determination. Within a year, the agency must then publish a final listing determination, the action of which could be to list the species, withdraw the proposed listing or delay it for up to six months to gather more scientific information.

BEE BROUHAHA

In its lawsuit, the Center for Biological Diversity stated that for all four bee species, the USFWS issued “90-day findings” that indicated ESA listing may be warranted. However, the agency was overdue for making “12-month findings” for each species. In the case of the blue calamintha bee, the 12-month finding is more than eight years overdue, the center claims.

For each bee species, the center wrote that “until defendants act and make this 12-month finding and issue a final listing determination,” the species will continue to decline toward extinction.

“There is no legal excuse for defendants’ failure to act,” the suit asserted.

In letters sent to the USFWS in October 2023 and January 2024, the center advised the agency that it intended to file suit to enforce the ESA’s mandatory listing deadlines. In response to the October letter, Gina Shultz, USFWS deputy assistant director for ecological services, wrote that in the agency’s “continuing effort to balance our workload within the limited budget Congress has set for completing listing actions, we have developed and posted on our website our National Domestic Listing Workplan for Fiscal Years 2023-2027.

“We ask that you please refrain from filing a lawsuit at this time,” she wrote.

At present, the American bumblebee and variable cuckoo bumble bee are scheduled for 12-month findings during the fiscal year 2026, which begins on Oct. 1, 2025. The workplan states that if listing is warranted, the agency generally intends to proceed with a concurrent proposed listing rule and proposed critical habitat designation, if critical habitat is prudent and determinable.

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DTN – 2024

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