Bees added to U.S. endangered species list for the first time

Bees added to U.S. endangered species list for the first time

While there were 2.66 million commercial honey-producing bee colonies in the United States in 2015, down slightly from the 2.74 million colonies in 2014, luckily for us the number of commercial bee colonies is still significantly higher than it was in 2006, when colony collapse disorder — the mass die-offs that began afflicting U.S. honeybee colonies — was first documented.

But last week bees got some sobering news—seven types of yellow-faced bees native to Hawaii received endangered species protections from the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, revealing that bees are still facing threats from habitat loss, pesticides, wildfires and loss of genetic diversity. The move offers the creatures some newfound protection, even if the agency failed to designate a critical habitat.

The yellow-faced bee is the only bee native to Hawaii, meaning that it was able to reach the Hawaiian Islands on its own, according to a fact sheet provided by the University of Hawaii’s Master Gardner Program. “From that one original colonist they evolved into 63 known endemic species, about 10 percent of the world’s yellow-faced bees and more than are found in this genus in all of North America.”

But the populations of these seven species are getting smaller and smaller, according to Fish and Wildlife. The seven endangered species are impacted by a wide variety of threats, including habitat destruction because of urbanization or nonnative animals, the introduction of nonnative plant species, wildfires, nonnative predators and natural events such as hurricanes, tsunamis and drought.

But yellow-faced bees are not the only pollinators in trouble. A United Nations-sponsored report released in February found that about 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species (such as bees and butterflies) are facing extinction. You don’t have to be a bee expert to know this has implications for our future food supply considering “about 75 percent of the world’s food crops…depend at least partly on pollination.”

This new protection status for bees “will allow authorities to implement recovery programs, access funding and limit their harm from outside sources,” Gregory Koob from the Fish and Wildlife Service told the Associated Press.

Want to learn how you can protect pollinators in your own backyard? Check out our article “BEE-Ware of Neonicinotoids” to learn how you can avoid deadly pesticides and other chemicals that put bee’s survival at risk.