Earlier this month, mosquito eradication efforts in South Carolina, gone horribly wrong, resulted in almost total devastation to the indigenous bee populations. The pesticide used to target the Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti species of mosquito, which can carry and transmit the Zika virus, killed off millions of bees. This single incident is one of many that have been laying waste to beneficial pollinators which has now led to the bumblebee’s proposed listing as an endangered species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday proposed listing the rusty patched bumblebee, a prized but vanishing pollinator once widely found in the upper Midwest and Northeastern United States, for federal protection as an endangered species, according to Reuters.
The Bumblebee is one of several wild bee species seen declining in the last couple of decades. It has now become the first ever bee in the continental United States formally proposed for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Bumblebees, as distinguished from domesticated honey bees, are essential pollinators of wildflowers and about a third of U.S. crops, from blueberries to tomatoes, said Sarina Jepsen of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which petitioned the government for protection of the insect, as reported by Reuters.
According to experts, bumblebees’ contribution to farms is estimated at a whopping $3.5 billion.
The rusty patched species is one of 47 varieties of native bumblebees in the United States and Canada, more than a quarter of which face a risk of extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Population declines among wild bees are much more difficult to document than those in honey bees, which are for the most part managed commercially and whose numbers are carefully tracked by beekeepers, Jespen said, as reported by Reuters.
According to Reuters, Jepsen said protections proposed for the rusty patched bumblebee will intensify the debate over the degree to which so-called neonicotinoid pesticides, routinely used in agriculture and applied to plants and trees in gardens and parks, have contributed to the decline of native bees.
While there is still debate over neonicotinoid pesticides, the only one not recognizing their harm — is the industry that uses them.
In the 1980s, Bayer developed a potent new class of pesticide called neonicotinoids (neonics), which rapidly came to dominate industrial agriculture. In 2008, they represented 24 percent of the global market for insecticides, with Imidacloprid becoming the most widely used insecticide in the world.
Almost all U.S. corn and about one-third of U.S. soybean is treated with neonics. A “major advance” happened when agribusiness developed neonic-coated seeds, where every part of the growing plant becomes infused with the toxin, including pollen.
After government regulators, deep in the pockets of agribusiness, rushed to approve neonics for commercial sale, scientific studies began documenting the ecological impacts. Bird populations and other insectivores declined due to a lack of insect prey, as neonics became more widely used.
In 2006 we began seeing dramatic die-offs of honeybee populations, which play a vital role in pollinating food crops. Colony collapse disorder became a common occurrence, with bees showing classic signs of insecticide poisonings such as tremors, uncoordinated movement and convulsions.
Dead bees in and around hives showed the presence of neonics, and new research found that low-levels of neonics in bees made them susceptible to viral infections and mites, and reduced the reproductive ability of queen bees. Corn and dandelion pollen brought back to hives routinely tested positive for neonics.
Other insects are devastated by neonics, including the North American bumblebee which has seen a 90 percent decline. The threat to wild bees, honey bees and other pollinators is becoming ever more clear as more studies come out.
Now, the first long-term study of neonic impacts on wild bees has confirmed that the popular pesticide is linked to long-term bee decline.
Researchers in England looked at 18 years of data on 64 wild bee species and the use of neonics on the oilseed rape plant, which is widely treated with neonics, finding that about half of the total decline is due to the insecticide. All of the 34 species that forage on oilseed rape showed at least a 10 percent decline from neonics, with the most affected group experiencing a 30 percent decline from neonics.
The findings of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology team appear in the journal Nature.
“Historically, if you just have oilseed rape, many bees tend to benefit from that because it is this enormous foraging resource all over the countryside,” lead author Dr. Ben Woodcock told the BBC. “But this co-relation study suggests that once its treated with neonicotinoids up to 85 percent, then they are starting to be exposed and it’s starting to have these detrimental impacts on them.”
“Endangered Species Act safeguards are now the only way the bumble bee would have a fighting chance for survival,” Jepsen added.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the public comment period initiated by Wednesday’s proposed listing runs through Nov. 21, 2016, after which the agency could revise its proposal or finalize a decision.
While agribusiness will continue to deny that their favorite insecticide has anything to do with declining bee populations, well-informed consumers have already forced a change at retail stores. Large garden centers, including Lowes and Home Depot, have committed to eliminating neonic-treated garden plants which are often planted for the purpose of attracting pollinators.
However, the vast majority of neonic application is in the hands of companies such as Bayer and Monsanto that produce both seeds and chemicals to use on seeds and plants. Their friends at the FDA and other government agencies are complicit in unleashing neonics without bothering to truly consider how these toxins affect the environment.