Bee Protections May Sting Pesticide Use, Construction Work

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By Alan Kovski

A federal decision to list a bumblebee species as endangered could have big impacts on pesticide use and construction activity in the eastern U.S.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to list the rusty patched bumblebee as endangered is scheduled to take effect Feb. 10. It is the first bee species in the continental U.S. to be listed, coming less than four months after the listing of seven species of bees in Hawaii.

The Fish and Wildlife Service singled out habitat loss, pesticides, pathogens and small population dynamics as the apparent causes of a precipitous decline in populations of the species since the mid-1990s.

The service especially noted neonicotinoid insecticides as worrisome, and it added that weed-killing herbicides kill food sources for the species. Those concerns could affect farmers, pesticide makers and such activities as state and local government management of roadside vegetation.

Then there are the construction issues, potentially affecting any industry. Parker Moore, a principal at law firm Beveridge & Diamond PC in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA the federal protections could hit any activity that overturns dirt because the species builds nests in the ground and queens survive winter in the ground.

“It’s one of the most significant listing decisions in the history of the Endangered Species Act,” Moore told Bloomberg BNA.

Many Pollinators May Benefit

The species has a wide range in the U.S., where it has been found recently in 13 states from Maine, west to Iowa and south to North Carolina. But its numbers have fallen rapidly. Prior to the 1990s, it was found in 29 states, the District of Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

The probability that the bee will become extinct in 30 years is more than 90 percent, the agency said.

The rusty patched bumblebee has been listed as endangered in Canada since 2012. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list it in the U.S.

“Addressing the threats that the rusty patched bumblebee faces will help not only this species, but countless other native pollinators that are so critical to the functioning of natural ecosystems and agriculture,” Rich Hatfield, the Xerces Society’s senior conservation biologist, said in a statement.

The Fish and Wildlife Service recognized the same broader significance, although with the proviso that by law a listing determination can be based only on the survival of the specific species.

“Measures to identify and address threats and prevent the extinction of the rusty patched bumblebee will help conserve other native pollinators,” the service said.

Information, Compliance Questions

When the listing was proposed Sept. 22, industry groups and state regulatory agencies responded with criticism that the action was based on inadequate information. But in its final rule (RIN:1018-BB66) the Fish and Wildlife Service responded that it was using the best information it could gather and was assisted by scientific peer reviewers.

Moore said the rule was inadequate in part because of a basic problem for compliance: There are no survey protocols for finding the bee nests and avoiding them in order to avoid violating the law. The agency should have taken the time to develop protocols before issuing its final rule, he said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said it wanted to streamline permitting, but Moore was skeptical.

“The permitting process typically takes more than a year and more than a million dollars,” Moore said.

He said he thought of projects especially, such as oil and gas pipelines and electric transmission lines. He helped file public comments for energy sector parties, including the American Petroleum Institute and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

Neonicotinoid Pesticides ‘Implicated’

The agency in its final rule said neonicotinoid insecticides “have been strongly implicated as the cause of the decline of the bees in general” and “specifically for rusty patched bumblebees.”

That judgment was based in part on data indicating populations of rusty patched bumblebees apparently began declining sharply in the 1990s, the same decade a popular neonicotinoid insecticide, imidacloprid, entered widespread use.

“It is difficult to determine how much of the species’ decline is due to a single factor, including neonicotinoids, as there are a myriad of other stressors (e.g., pathogens, parasitoids, and diseases) acting upon the species, and all likely interacting synergistically,” the agency said.

“However, lethal and sublethal effects to bees have been documented for this class of chemicals, so it is reasonable to think that they likely are contributing to the decline,” the agency said.

The final rule is scheduled for publication on Jan. 11 in the Federal Register.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Kovski in Washington at akovski@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The Fish and Wildlife Service final rule on the rusty patched bumblebee is available at http://src.bna.com/lir.

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