Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee" Joins Endangered Species List


The Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee, disappearing from an orchard near you (Photo © Johanna James-Heinz; source)

by Gaius Publius

The plant world has been losing its pollinators (pollinating insects) for a while due to species decline and, in the case of bees, colony collapse. I suspect most people have had this story on the far edge of their radar for a while. It's time to bring the story nearer.

For the first time, a bee species, the "Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee," has been put on the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This means two things — one, the species gets "special protection," and two, the long-term threat to U.S. and world food supply from loss of pollinating insects should not be underestimated.

The bumble bee story is in many places. Let's start with Lorraine Chow, who follows this at EcoWatch (my emphasis):
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has declared the rusty patched bumble bee an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). This is the first-ever bumble bee in the U.S., and the first wild bee of any kind in the contiguous 48 states, to receive ESA protection.

This landmark decision was made in "a race against extinction" of the Bombus affinis which is "balancing precariously on the brink of extinction," the agency said in its announcement Tuesday.

The bee, known for its distinctive reddish mark on its abdomen, was once common and abundant across 28 states from Connecticut to South Dakota, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces, but has plummeted by 87 percent since the late 1990s. Only small, scattered populations remain in 13 states and one province.

"The rusty patched bumble bee is among a group of pollinators—including the monarch butterfly — experiencing serious declines across the country," USFWS Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius said. "Why is this important? Pollinators are small but mighty parts of the natural mechanism that sustains us and our world. Without them, our forests, parks, meadows and shrublands, and the abundant, vibrant life they support, cannot survive, and our crops require laborious, costly pollination by hand."

The rusty patched bumble bee is already listed as "endangered" under Canada's Species at Risk Act and as "critically endangered" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

The insect is an important pollinator of prairie wildflowers, as well as food crops such as cranberries, blueberries, apples, alfalfa and more.

"Bumble bees are especially good pollinators; even plants that can self-pollinate produce more and bigger fruit when pollinated by bumble bees," the USFWS said. "Each year, insects, mostly bees, provide pollination services valued at an estimated $3 billion in the United States."
There's more in the article if you wish to read further. The Washington Post puts it this way:
The rusty patched bumble bee was so prevalent 20 years ago that pedestrians in Midwest cities fought to shoo them away. Now, even trained scientists and experienced bee watchers find it difficult to lay eyes on them. “I’ve never seen one, and I live here pretty close to where there have been populations documented,” said Tamara Smith, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist stationed in Minneapolis.

Fearing that the striped black and yellow pollinator with a long black tail could be lost forever, Fish and Wildlife designated the animal as endangered Tuesday. ...

Why was the rusty patched bee selected for the list and not others? The answer, Smith said, is its former abundance and astonishing plummet.
Apparently the speed of this species' collapse got people's attention.

"Canary in the Coal Mine"

This is just the beginning of the loss of pollinating insects. Honey bees have been in trouble for a while, and as the Post writer says, more species are sure to follow this bumble bee:
Although rusty patched bumble bees are the first to be considered endangered, and the first bee species on the U.S. mainland to get the designations (the yellow faced bee in Hawaii became the first overall in October last year), they are likely to be joined by others. “This bee is kind of like the canary in the coal mine,” Smith said, an indicator that many pollinator species — bees and butterflies — are in deep trouble.

There were nearly 3.5 million honeybee colonies in 1989, according to the Agriculture Department. That number fell by a million colonies when colony collapse disorder was first documented in 2006. in the 10 years sinc[e], the number of colonies has climbed only slightly, by about 100,000.

One state, Maryland, shows how eerie and perilous the decline has been for professional beekeepers. In 2015, the state lost more than 60 percent of its hives, each containing up to 20,000 honeybees. Beekeeper Steve McDaniel, owner of McDaniel Honey Farms, lost half of his hives in Manchester, Md., and all of them where he kept bees in downtown Baltimore. Hives with up to 20,000 bees cost about $1,200.
So, what's causing this? For a change, the answer isn't climate change.

Pesticides Are Killing the Bees

The scientific community has reached a consensus that the agent causing these species collapses is a group of widely used pesticides called "neonicotinoids" or "neonics." EcoWatch, from a different article:
Neonicotinoids—a potent class of pesticides used on many crops in the U.S.—have long been blamed for the widespread decline of our pollinators. Now a major new study has found a direct correlation between the use of these "neonics" and honeybee colony losses across England and Wales.

Meanwhile, a report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) revealed that the controversial insecticides were present in more than half of both urban and agricultural streams sampled across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
 Back to the first EcoWatch article:
"A number of scientific articles clearly document the lethal and sublethal effects that these chemicals are having on bees and other pollinators, and their use has intensified extensively within the rusty patched bumble bee's range during the same time period that declines have been observed," the Xerces Society explains.
The world's largest producer of neonics is Bayer. They're not just an aspirin company; they're a chemical producing giant (and, by the way, part of the cartel that sold poison gas to Nazis for concentration camps).

But neonicotinoids aren't the only culprit:
The Xerces Society also suggests that the massive rise in the use of the controversial herbicide glyphosate on genetically modified corn and soybean fields in the last 20 years has effectively eliminated milkweed and other wildflowers from the agricultural landscape.

"While no direct link has been made from the use of these pesticides to the declines observed in the rusty patched bumble bee there is little doubt that stressors like pesticides at the very least put increased pressures on an already imperiled bumble bee, especially when one considers the scope at which these chemicals are being adopted and used," the group points out.
Which bring us to ... Monsanto.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, a pesticide used around the world. And Monsanto is one of the world's leading megalomaniacal corporations. Which leads to this.

Is Monsanto Killing the Bees? 

Above, the EcoWatch writer noted that "no direct link" showed that glyphosate is responsible for the collapse of the rusty-patched bumble bee population, which brings me to these final points:

Monsanto is one of the most obsessively profit driven companies in the world. It aims to create a worldwide monopoly for its GMO food products, and has thus, ironically, been tabbed as a leading cause of world hunger. The reason is simple. Monsanto doesn't really grow food; it grows money, and food is just the middle-man. If too much corn is being planted for ethanol (see link above), taking productive fields offline for other uses, Monsanto doesn't care, so long as the money comes in.

Which means that if Monsanto, the corporation — or more specifically, its CEO class — has to choose between making millions from a mega-profitable operation versus providing sufficient food for actual humans, well, what choice do you think they're going to make, ten times out of ten?

Special Protection?

Which brings us back to where we started — the Endangered Species Act and the "special protection" offered to species on its list. Here's how the Post writer quoted above put the pesticide problem:
Fearing that the striped black and yellow pollinator with a long black tail could be lost forever, Fish and Wildlife designated the animal as endangered Tuesday. The designation triggers protections such as regulations against knowingly destroying the bumble bee’s habitat and habitat creation. It also raises awareness about the plight of the bumble bee and requires a detailed, long term recovery plan to restore its population.
What are the odds that Monsanto and other pesticide companies will be required by the U.S. givernment to eliminate sales of their products within the habitats of these insects? Or will the agency simply content itself with "raising awareness"?

The Post article lists these causes of bumble bee population collapse: "farm pesticides, household herbicides, human development over bee habitat, disease and climate change." A convenient list for corporate giants; it could be your fault too, even though the farm pesticide usage is magnitudes greater as a cause than anything else in that list.

And, as the writer notes, there really is no direct link, just as there is no "direct link" between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. The link is strong, but no one can say that any individual death was caused by smoking, even if the deceased died of lung cancer and was a heavy smoker. Doubt-inducers can always point to individuals who smoked heavily and lived to ripe ages, and to lung cancer patients who never smoked at all.

Yet ... this seems specious, doesn't it? In the case of smoking, the statistical evidence finally became too overwhelming even for an industry-captured government to ignore, and the U.S. finally issued regulations designed to reduce or eliminate smoking, because human life is irretrievable and the risk of death from smoking is high.

Same on this case. Only now the risk is to food across the planet: "The honeybee is the most important commercial pollinator, globally responsible for pollinating at least 90% of commercial crops." The rusty-patched bumble bee population has collapsed 87%. In the U.S., between April 2014 and 2015, honey bee loss was 42%, up from 34% the previous year.

If the honey bee joins this bumble bee on the endangered species list, look out. Because if Monsanto and other pesticide companies can't be stopped, only they and their friends will be eating well. Fun times ahead.

Bayer-Monsanto Merger

A final note: Remember the two companies listed above? Guess who wants to merge — Bayer and Monsanto. The combined company would be "the largest agribusiness giant in the world, 'selling 29 percent of the world’s seeds and 24 percent of its pesticides.'"

And the $66 billion deal is done; it just needs regulatory approval:
[T]he proposed merger will likely face an intense and lengthy regulatory process in the United States, Canada, Brazil, the European Union and elsewhere. Hugh Grant, Monsanto's chief executive, said Wednesday the companies will need to file in about 30 jurisdictions for the merger.
I'm willing to bet that in the U.S. — even with a government fully controlled by Democrats — regulatory approval would be granted. Under a Republican administration, approval is a foregone conclusion. As to worldwide approval, stay tuned.


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At 6:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention that the merger plus upcoming FTAs are geared toward:

1) repealing EU laws and practices that make Monsanto's GM seed illegal there. Monsanto wants to sell 100% of the worlds' seed.
2) increasing sales of their round up poison even where it isn't needed or wanted.

And you are correct. This merger would happen, maybe quicker, in a $hillbillary admin.

And even if it were provable that roundup or some other pesticide will kill all our pollinators, nobody would be allowed to know it. Unless Assange or someone leaks it.

And then drumpf and American imbecile christibanazis would scoff... cuz gawd and the free market will fix everything.

At 6:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Xerxes is one of the conservation groups to which I contribute money and I know their work is so important. We grow an organic garden each year, but also live near farms that have huge tanks of pesticides they spray on their fields every year. I get so angry when I see my idiot neighbors walking around with their "Roundup" sprays killing every little weed that pops up in their beautiful lawn. No wonder I have no bees pollinating my garden plants and we have to pollinate them by hand. What a wonderful world we have created! Monsanto also bullies farmers who try to grow with organic seeds and tries to destroy their farms.

At 6:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember 20 years ago hundreds of bees would show up when our various flowering plants would bloom.

This past year, nearly none even though there were more flowers than usual.

I also remember when "rusty patched" only described a beautiful redhead.


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