The first bumblebee in the United States was recently pronounced endangered. Once a common sight, the rusty patch bumblebee is now “balancing precariously on the brink of extinction,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The bumblebee previously thrived in 28 states, but has been on a steady decline over the past two decades, with its population dropping by a staggering 87%.
Of the more than 3,000 species of bees in the United States, about 40 belong to the genus Bombus, including the Bombus affinus — the rusty patched bumblebee.
Are There Other Endangered Bees?
The rusty patched bumblebee is not the first bee in the United States to become endangered, however, as last September seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees received protection under the Endangered Species Act.
What’s Causing These Bees to Disappear?
Multiple factors are at play here. The rusty patched bumblebee, along with seven species of yellow-faced Hawaiian bee species, are suffering from habitat loss, diseases, parasites, pesticides, and climate change. Since bees pollinate a significant portion of our food, this is not an issue we can ignore for much longer.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Bumblebees are among the most important pollinators of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and clover and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes.”
“The economic value of pollination services provided by native insects (mostly bees) is estimated at $3 billion per year in the United States.”
What About Advocacy Groups?
There are many groups that are trying to save the bees directly by raising awareness and educating people on what they can do to spread this important message.
One insect advocacy group, Xerces Society, actually sued the federal government for not acting on this matter sooner. “Bumble bees are dying off, vanishing from our farms, gardens, and parks, where they were once found in great numbers,” said Rebecca Riley, Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who partnered with the group on their case.
General Mills, the company behind many well-known cereal brands, including the popular Honey Nut Cheerios, has recently launched a new campaign, Help Bring Back The Bees, designed to draw attention to the issue of declining bee populations.
They have recently removed their popular mascot, “Buzz the Bee,” from their boxes, leaving an outline of where he would be to highlight and raise awareness about the issue. Included in new boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios are packets of wildflower seeds, meant to encourage people to plant so they can do their part in feeding bees.
Raising awareness is a very important step, and planting flowers can certainly help, but I can’t be the only one who sees the irony in this campaign. Let me explain…
General Mills is known for their use of genetically modified ingredients. The wheat, soy, and corn products they use in their products all come from genetically modified sources. This means that these products are not organic, and must be sprayed with large quantities of pesticides. Pesticides, and genetically modified crops specifically, are quite possibly one of the largest factors contributing to the loss of the bees.
I believe if General Mills truly cared about bee population decline, they would start using organic ingredients in their products. Taking a stance on the honey bee issue merely diverts attention away from their other practices, making it look as though they care for the environment even though their other actions are clearly unsustainable. Or is it just me?
Is There Anything We Can Do?
Of course! There is always something we can do. Here are some simple yet effective ways you can help save the bees, right now.
- Plant a garden. We all know it — bees are pollinators, and in order to do their job, they need to have lots of vegetables, flowers, fruits, and other plants around to feed from. Having a garden in general can really help them out. This is especially ideal if you have the yard space, since bees get nothing from grass. Why not benefit yourself, the bees, the environment, and your bank account and plant a garden?
- Go Native. If you are going to plant a garden, consider doing some research and including plants native to your location. These will not only thrive, but they will be exactly what the bees would order up if they had a voice. It is also important to protect these native plants so that they too do not become endangered. If you don’t have space for a garden, check out “5 DIY Projects For Those Who Don’t Have Space For a Garden.”
- Save the Queen. New bumblebee queens need spring-blooming flowers, shrubs, and trees. New queens are born in the fall and, after breeding, hibernate for the winter. Come spring, they emerge and need nectar and pollen sources in order to start their colonies.
- Offer a home for the bees. You can install a bee block or a bee hotel, both of which you can find online, or build one yourself. This offers a habitat for the bees to nest in, which gives them a greater chance of survival.
- Use permaculture techniques. By using these techniques you can virtually eliminate the need for chemical pesticides or fertilizers, which can help the bees and protect the environment as well.
- Spread the word. Raising awareness is key. Spread the word, and tell people what you’re up to!