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To Bee or Not To Bee?

An endangered Bumble Bee

Four pollinator species that are declining throughout their range in California have been causing quite the buzz in California. In 2018, The Center for Food Safety (CFS), Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation (Xerces), and Defenders of Wildlife (Defenders) petitioned the State of California to protect the western bumble bee, Franklin’s bumble bee, Crotch’s bumble bee, and Suckley’s cuckoo bumble bee. However, because the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) limits Candidate, Threatened, and Endangered status to “a native species or subspecies of a bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, or plant,” the bees were petitioned under the category of fish. The Sacramento County Superior Court did not concur and declared insects are not afforded these protections in a ruling in November of 2020, squashing the chances for these bees to be protected under CESA. An appeal to overturn this ruling was filed in February 2021 and on May 31, 2022, California’s Third District Court of Appeal ruled that bumble bees can indeed be protected under the umbrella term of “invertebrate” because the act (CESA) itself defines “fish” as “a wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian or part, spawn or ovum of any of those animals.” This decision was upheld on September 21, 2022, when California’s Supreme Court denied review of the petition for appeal of this decision.

So now that we’re all caught up, where do the bees stand now? A final listing determination for the four bumble bee species is scheduled to be made in early 2024. In the meantime, these state Candidate species are temporarily afforded the same protections as state-listed endangered or threatened species. Therefore, an Incidental Take Permit is required for projects that would affect these species. In the bigger picture, the door is now ajar for protection of other invertebrates, like the Monarch butterfly. The number of Monarchs that overwinter along the California coast fell below the critical threshold for survival in 2020 (<30,000) but rallied in 2021 (to 247,237 individuals). With the 2022 Thanksgiving Count already underway (Nov 12-Dec 4, 2022) and federal listing delayed until 2024 (because listing is warranted but precluded by other higher priority species), the environmental community is anxiously awaiting results of this year’s count. In other federal news, Hermes copper (a butterfly species whose U.S. range occurs solely in San Diego County) was federally listed as Threatened in December 2021, and 35,027 acres of Critical Habitat were designated in Lopez Canyon, Miramar/Santee, and southeast San Diego.

ECORP Biologists are working hard to keep you up to date with the latest policies and regulations as they develop. For more information, contact Christine Tischer at (714) 648-0630.

An endangered Bumble Bee
Picture of a Monarch butterfly
The Hermes Copper Butterfly

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