NRDC v. David L. Bernhardt et al. (Rusty Patched Bumblebee Habitat)

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Credit: USFWS

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 ensure that the rusty patched bumblebee has the habitat it needs to survive and recover, and that those areas also support other wildlife, like other bees, birds, and bats.

In September 2019, the FWS agreed to a settlement that requires the agency decide whether it will designate critical habitat by July 31, 2020. Unfortunately, at the last possible moment, the agency decided to deprive the bees of habitat protections, claiming the availability of habitat does not limit the conservation of the bee—despite its own findings noting habitat loss and degradation may have contributed to its decline. 

This decision threatens the bee’s survival and recovery, leaving its habitat vulnerable to destruction without consideration for the pollinator’s survival. But the fight isn’t over. NRDC will continue battling to ensure the bee has the protections it deserves and promoting policies that support and protect pollinators across the United States.

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