California court ruling opens door to protecting insects as endangered species

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  • A court ruled this week that the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) can apply to invertebrates, including insects.
  • This means legal protections will be in place for four endangered native bumblebee species in California.
  • The decision marks the end of a legal battle between conservation groups and a consortium of large-scale industrial agricultural interests.
  • An estimated 28% of all bumblebees in North America are at risk of extinction, with consequences for ecosystems and crops, as a third of food production depends on pollinators.

A California court has ruled that the state’s endangered species law can apply to invertebrates. This week’s ruling by the Third District Court of Appeals means that insects, including four endangered native California bumblebee species and the monarch butterfly, will receive much-needed protection under the California Endangered Species Act.

“We celebrate today’s decision that insects and other invertebrates are eligible for protection under CESA,” Sarina Jepsen, director of endangered species at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, said in a statement. hurry. “The Court’s decision enables California to protect some of its most endangered pollinators, a step that will help build the resilience of the state’s native ecosystems and farms.”

In 2018, the Xerces Society, Center for Food Safety (CFS), and Defenders of Wildlife asked the state of California to list four native bumblebee species as endangered under the CESA.

The California Fish and Game Commission voted to begin the process of listing these endangered bees in 2019, but was later sued by a “consortium of large-scale California industrial agricultural interests,” according to a statement from Xerces Society Press. The lower court sided with the farm consortium and conservation groups appealed that decision in 2021. This week’s ruling marks a victory for conservation groups.

The four species are the Western Bumblebee (Bombus occidentalis), whose relative abundance decreased by 84%; the cuckoo bumblebee Suckley (Bombus sucleyi) which is considered critically endangered on the IUCN Red List and whose range has decreased by 58%; Crotch’s Bumblebee (Bombus crotch), which is now found in only 20% of its historical range; and Franklin’s bumblebee (bombus franklini) which, despite extensive annual surveys, has not been observed since 2006.

The western bumblebee (Bombus occidentalis occidentalis) will collect pollen on its feet. Photo by Rich Hatfield via Xerces Society.

According to California law, protections under the CESA mean that public agencies must not approve projects that “would compromise the continued existence” of endangered or threatened species or adversely alter their habitat. These species are also protected against removal from the wild or killing.

“It’s a big day for California bumblebees!” said Pamela Flick, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife.

Sam Joyce, a certified law student at the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic who argued the case in the Third District, said the CESA is an important tool for protecting and restoring endangered species. He said the court’s decision “ensures that CESA will fulfill its goal of conserving ‘all endangered species’ by protecting all of California’s biodiversity, including terrestrial invertebrates.”

The IUCN Bumblebee Specialist Group reports that 28% of all North American bumblebees are at risk of extinction. Alarming in itself, this decline may also have consequences for ecosystems and crops, as a third of food production depends on pollinators like bees.

“With one in three bites of food we eat coming from a crop pollinated by bees, this court ruling is critical to protecting our food supply,” said Rebecca Spector, West Coast director at the Center for Food Safety. “The ruling clarifies that insects such as bees are eligible for protections under the CESA, which are necessary to ensure that populations of endangered species can survive and thrive.”

Banner image Crotch’s Bumblebee (Bombus crotchii) via Xerces Society / Stephanie McKnight

Liz Kimbrough is a writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter @lizkimbrough_

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Agriculture, Bees, Biodiversity, Conservation, Endangered Species, Endangered Species Act, Environment, Governance, Green, Optimistic Environment, Insects, Pollinators

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