NRDC v. David L. Bernhardt et al. (Rusty Patched Bumblebee Habitat)
Not long ago, the rusty patched bumblebee was common across 28 states throughout the midwestern and northeastern United States. But since the mid-1990s, the native pollinator has disappeared from approximately 87 percent of its range as pesticide use, habitat destruction, climate change, and disease have caused populations to crash.
In March 2017—following two lawsuits by NRDC—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the rusty patched bumblebee on the Endangered Species list. To this day, it is the only native bee in the continental United States to be listed. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires the agency to identify and protect the bee’s critical habitat—meaning areas that are vital to its survival and recovery. But in the year since the species became entitled to these protections, the Fish and Wildlife Service had failed to act—even though the bee’s grassland habitat is particularly vulnerable to destruction: 99.9 percent of our country’s grasslands have been destroyed since European settlement.
On January 15, 2019, NRDC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat for the bee, as required by the ESA. Our lawsuit aimed to not only ensure that the rusty patched bumblebee has the habitat it needs to survive, but to also support other wildlife, like other bees, birds, and bats.
In September 2019, the FWS took a critical step forward and agreed to a settlement that requires the agency decide whether it will designate critical habitat by July 31, 2020—and then finalize any habitat protections by July 31, 2021.
Protecting the bee’s habitat is critical to ensuring the survival of the species. We'll continue to keep a close eye on the process.