Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Trump Administration Is Getting Sued Over This Bee

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit conservation advocacy group, is suing the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Interior Department, and the directors of both agencies over one of President Trump's executive orders, which has delayed the first bee from being put on the Endangered Species List. The NRDC filed the lawsuit today in New York saying the delay is "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion" and illegal, and that the bee should be listed as originally planned.

President Trump originally signed the order on January 24, directing government agencies to freeze and review a broad array of environmental and health rules previously issued by the Obama Administration, for the following 60 days or longer.

Trump's order prevented the USFWS from following through with its plans to put the rusty patched bumble bee, a once abundant and critical pollinator of the US, on the list on February 10. Once a species is added to the Endangered Species List, the federal government becomes immediately responsible not only for the protection of that species and its habitat, but for restoring its populations to healthy and vital levels so that it can eventually be removed from the list.

For the rusty patched bumble bee, this means creating more patches of the prairie habitat it needs to forage, as well as putting out nest boxes on the edges of woodlots and hedgerows to promote hive growth.  

In explaining the delay, USFWS posted a rule change to the US Federal Register, the daily public-facing journal for federal agencies, saying that it would place the bee on the list on March 21st, when Trump's freeze lifts. But conservation groups are not convinced this will happen based upon this administration's apparent disdain for environmental legislation of all kinds, and Republicans' historic desire to want to roll back the Endangered Species Act.

"[It] is an opportunity for the Administration to reconsider and perhaps revoke the rule entirely. So we're concerned."

"We don't know if this is just a freeze," Rebecca Riley, Senior Attorney for NRDC, told Motherboard in a phone call before the lawsuit was filed. "What it is, is an opportunity for the Administration to reconsider and perhaps revoke the rule entirely. So we're concerned."

Rusty patched bumble bees are yellow with black-tailed abdomens and a little "rusty patch" on the back of their middle abdominal segment, earning them their name. They'recritical pollinators of wildflowers as well as important crops like tomatoes, cranberries, apples, and plums.

Once so common in the Eastern and Midwestern United States that they were nearly considered a nuisance, the bumble bee's population has now plummeted nearly 90 percent in the last 20 years. Heavy use of pesticides, wholesale clearing of their habitat, and the spread of disease from non-native, commercial bees, have contributed to their precipitous decline.

Conservation biologist Rich Hatfield, of the Xerces Society, a nonprofit dedicated to invertebrate conservation, underlined the significance of this drop to Motherboard: "This was a once really common animal that was distributed across 28 states in the US and it's begun to disappear. So it's not like it this is a small, obscure insect that only lives in one place."

Last October, The Washington Post published an article that claimed that "the bees you're more familiar with," the "ones around your yard making honey and pollinating crops," are, in fact, "doing just fine."

While that might be a comforting thought, the problem with this is that they were referring to commercial honeybees, which are not native to North America, and do not prop up the continent's native ecosystems. "Our native bees are what provide pollination everywhere else," said Riley.

It's also wishful thinking. Honeybees are, in fact, struggling under the pressure of many of the same problems afflicting wild species.

"All the evidence out there is that this administration is unabashedly in support of industry at the expense of natural resources."

Plus, Hatfield explained that having a wide array of pollinators is critical for a resilient, healthy ecosystem and food security. The more kinds of pollinators you have, the less of an impact things like disease have on the process. "Diversity is a good thing," he told Motherboard on the phone. "We have a wide range of agricultural crops, that are dependent on pollinators—which provide one out of every three bites of our food."

The White House's freeze on pending regulations is actually fairly common practice for an incoming administration. But, according to Riley, "this isn't just any administration."

"All the evidence out there is that this administration is unabashedly in support of industry at the expense of natural resources," Hatfield said.  

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