The world is ending… Or so many people believe now that seven species of yellow-faced bees native to Hawaii have been placed on the endangered species list. These are the first bees in the country to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
However, conservationists see this as a victory. The new status will provide much needed protection for the bees by allowing authorities to implement recovery programs for the species and limit harm from outside sources, according to Gregory Koob of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is largely credited for getting the bees onto the list. They have led a multi-year effort that began in 2009 to gain protection for the seven species of yellow-faced bees. The Society called the USFWS decision “excellent news for these bees” but added that there is much work that needs to be done “to ensure that Hawaii’s bees thrive,” according to their website.
“It’s definitely a good first step,” President of the Pollinator Ecology Club on campus and thesis student Reed Barry said. “The next step would be to protect specific habitat areas so that nobody can degrade those areas any further and lead to further population declines of those particular species.”
For now, Barry advises activists to put pressure on politicians and urge them to create new legislation that will further the protection of the bees.
Many conservationists see the recent designation of these bees as endangered as growing recognition of the importance of bees. As Sam Droege, a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist and one of the country’s foremost experts on native bee identification, told The Washington Post in 2015, bees are “the indigenous, unpaid and invisible workforce that somehow has managed to sustain all terrestrial life without health-care subsidies, or a single COLA [Cost-of-Living Adjustment], for the past 250 million years.”
At least 75 percent of the world’s food supply depends, in some way, on pollination. If pollinating bees died out, the world would have to find a way to continue the work they inherently do.
However, pollinators are not the only important bee. Recently, emphasis has begun to be placed on the protection of wild bees as well. According to Taylor Ricketts, director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont, although some wild bees may not be responsible for pollinating crops, they are important to the larger ecosystem and can help maintain the habitat for other species that indirectly affect humans.