On January 11, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published its final listing of the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  A proposed listing of the bee was previously published in September 2016.  The decline in the species is due to a number of factors such as pathogens, pesticides, habitat loss and degradation, small population dynamics, and the effects of climate change.

While the bee’s range used to cover 31 states/provinces, its range is now limited to include only Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina/Tennessee (single record on the border), Ontario (Canada), Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The practical impact of the listing is that under section 7 of the ESA, federal agencies must ensure activities they authorize, fund, or carry out will not likely jeopardize the species.  Therefore, potential impacts to the species will need to be included in the scope of the agency consultation process for projects with a federal nexus to determine whether the projects will jeopardize the species.  Additionally, Section 9 of the Act prohibits the “take” of an endangered species (the ESA states the term “take” means to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct”).  FWS has determined that several activities would constitute a take of the bees, such as the unauthorized handling or collecting of them; the unauthorized release of herbicides or pesticides in habitats in which the bee is known to occur; the unauthorized modification of habitat (including vegetation and soils) in which the bee is known to occur; and the unauthorized discharge of chemicals or fill material into any wetlands in which the bee is known to occur.

Once a species has been designated as endangered or threatened, Section 4 of the ESA requires the Service to designate a “critical habitat” for the species.  FWS determined that a designation of critical habitat is not determinable at this time due to ongoing questions regarding the physical and biological features essential to the species’ conservation.  FWS is currently drafting a recovery plan for the species.  The listing becomes effective February 10, 2017.  Because the rule will not be effective until after the transition in Administration, it is possible that the new Administration may try to pull the rule back.  The Federal Register notice of the listing is available here.