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California Supreme Court Lets Decision Stand that Bees Can Be Protected by the California Endangered Species Act | Xerces Society Skip to main content
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For immediate release September 22, 2022.

Contacts:
Sarina Jepsen, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, (971) 244-3727, sarina.jepsen@xerces.org

 

PORTLAND, Ore.; September 22, 2022---On September 21, 2022, in a major victory for California’s native bees, California’s Supreme Court denied review of a petition filed by a consortium of agricultural and pesticide interests that sought to appeal a lower court decision that determined that four species of imperiled native bumble bees are eligible for protection under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). These four species – the western, Franklin’s, Suckley cuckoo, and Crotch’s bumble bee – have declined extensively from their historic ranges and urgently need the protection that CESA can provide in order to stave off extinction.

This case follows a petition that the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, and Center for Food Safety submitted in 2018 to protect these four bumble bee species. As a result of the groups' petition, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to begin the listing process in 2019, but was sued by a consortium of California's agricultural and pesticide interests shortly after its decision. 

The consortium argued that insects, such as the four bumble bee species, may not be listed for protection under CESA. In November 2020, a trial court sided with the consortium. Then, in February 2021, the conservation groups, represented by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, as well as the Commission and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife appealed. In May 2022, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled unanimously in favor of the State of California and conservation groups, holding that bees and other insects can be protected under CESA. The California Supreme Court’s September 21, 2022 decision not to review the petition for appeal allows the Third District Court of Appeal’s ruling to stand.

“We are elated with the California Supreme Court’s decision,” said Sarina Jepsen, endangered species director with the Xerces Society. “Now, some of California’s most endangered pollinators may be saved from extinction.”

Native bumble bees are essential to the resilience of both agriculture and native ecosystems, and the loss of these and other native pollinators can have far ranging ecological consequences. Other terrestrial invertebrates facing extinction are also now eligible for protection under the California Endangered Species Act, such as the monarch butterfly.

California cannot maintain its exceptional biodiversity or sustain its agricultural system without protecting its native pollinators. Most plants rely upon insects – often bees – for pollination, producing the fruits and seeds that feed songbirds and many small mammals. Insects are also food for many fish and 96% of birds eat insects or feed them to their young. Protecting the diversity of insect species in California will help to ensure that insects can continue to provide these vital ecosystem services.

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Bumble Bee Profiles

Crotch's bumble bee (Bombus crotchii), a bee with yellow, black, and often orange on its abdomen, is considered Endangered by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN); it only persists in 20% of its historical range, and has declined by 98% in relative abundance (its abundance relative to other species of bumble bees). This bee historically occurred from the northern Central Valley to Baja Mexico, but currently persists primarily in southern coastal habitats and some areas to the north and southwest of Sacramento.

The western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis) has a range that extends across the western U.S. and southern Canada. In California, it was historically known from the northern part of the state, the coastal region, and the mountains. It currently persists primarily in the Sierra Nevada; its relative abundance has declined by 84%.

The Suckley cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus suckleyi) was historically found throughout the western U.S. As an obligate social parasite, it is found only where its host species of bumble bees, including the western bumble bee, remain. It is considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN and its range has declined by 58%.

Franklin's bumble bee (Bombus franklini), which historically occurred in an area about 60 miles wide in the Siskiyou Mountains of northern California and southern Oregon may already be extinct. Despite extensive annual surveys by the late Dr. Robbin Thorp, professor emeritus at the University of California–Davis, Franklin's bumble bee has not been seen since 2006.

 

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The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is a science-based, international nonprofit organization that protects the natural world through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats. By utilizing applied research, engaging in advocacy, providing educational resources, addressing policy implications and building community, we endeavor to make meaningful long-term conservation a reality. Xerces works to raise awareness about the plight of invertebrates and to gain protection for the most vulnerable species before they decline to a level at which recovery is impossible. Learn more at xerces.org.