Bye, Bye Bumblebees

A bumblebee species faces extinction while scientists beg our government for pollinator protection.

by Dani Yokhna

Bye, Bye Bumblebees - Photo by Johnny N. Dell/ (

It seems pollinators are on everyone’s mind as bee population decline continues to carry on in front of our eyes. Last week, a bumblebee species was put on a prominent endangered species list, and more than 100 scientists sent a letter to President Obama’s new Pollinator Health Task Force pointing out all the ways in which we’re wronging our pollinators by using neonicotinoid pesticides.

Heading Toward Extinction
In the worst news for bees, a member of their own has been put on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List as an Endangered species. Bombus fraternus—known to you and me as a species of bumblebee—has seen an 86-percent population decline and a 29-percent range decline since 2001. At this rate, the bumblebee could be gone in 80 to 90 years. Turning U.S. grasslands into industrial-agriculture monocultures, plus rampant neonicotinoid pesticide use, is being blamed as the primary cause of this bumblebee’s downfall. This is not cool for anyone eating food but particularly not for farmers in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions—the bee’s native range—who need this bee to pollinate crops.

(Incidentally, the American eel and Pacific Bluefin tuna are also among the 22,413 species now on the IUCN Red List.)

What’s a Farmer to Do?
It’s not just farmers who play a role in helping to bring back this bumblebee. Gardeners and homeowners also need to know their actions are directly affecting pollinators. Here are three things we could all be working toward:

  • We need to restore and preserve grassland habitats. This bee, in particular, nests below ground, meaning it not only uses the grasslands to find food but also to make homes.
  • We need to stop using neonicotinoid pesticides. These kills bees, people!  
  • We need to keep our own hives healthy so wild pollinators don’t contract diseases from managed colonies.

Please Preserve Pollinators
How is it 2014 and we’re still having to ask to “preserve” something that’s inherently good? I long for the day I can stop writing about this group or that group petitioning the government to do what’s actually right, such as—in this case—halting the use of the pollinator-killing neonicotinoid pesticides. Regardless, 108 scientists—entomologists, agronomists, ecologists and ecotoxicologists—signed a letter to the Pollinator Health Task Force appointed this summer to ask for action against neonics. Among their requests:

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  • Stop the use of neonicotinoids—or short of that, stop their use for seed treatments and cosmetic uses.
  • Stop neonicotinoid registration for agricultural and cosmetic uses.
  • Invest in research and funding for nonpesticidal alternatives.

And until neonicotinoids are banned altogether:

  • Label these seed treatments as pesticides and include a bee-hazard statement on the label of all neonicotinoid-containing products.
  • Conduct a Registration Review of all systemic insecticides that includes independent, peer-reviewed research.
  • Provide incentives for farmers to create healthy pollinator habitats.

The requests in this letter don’t appear to be far-fetched, as the Environmental Protection Agency recently completed a study of soybeans that says neonicotinoid pesticide use plays no role in soybean yield, which means halting the pesticide family’s use shouldn’t harm crop production—or soybean production, at least. (You can read the EPA’s full findings and comment on the results of this study until Dec. 22, 2014.)

The task force is wrapping up its Pollinator Health Strategy that President Obama mandated in his “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators” memorandum. We’ll see if this letter has any impact, as the task force is set to release its Pollinator Health Strategy this winter.

There’s always a lot of pollinator action taking place—locally, nationally and around the world. Jump on board! These bees aren’t going to save themselves.

Read more about what you can do to help bees and other pollinators:

  • 4 Ways to Keep Bees More Naturally 
  • 5 Pollinator-Preservation Pointers
  • 22 Fruits, Flowers and Herbs to Attract More Bees to Your Farm
  • Attract Beneficial Bugs with Meadowsweet
  • Yarrow: A Garden Spotlight Bees Will Love


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