The rusty patched bumble bee.

The rusty patched bumble bee.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to declare the rusty patched bumble bee an endangered species. The bee once flourished in Iowa and would be the first bee to make the list and gain federal protection.

Sarina Jepsen, endangered species program director for The Xerces Society, says this type of bee has vanished from 87-percent of its historic range and where it still exists, its populations are as much as 95-percent smaller than they were just a few decades ago.

“Protecting this bee could take a wide variety of forms, from restoring habitat for the species to protecting it from diseases,” Jepsen says. “One of the concerns about this species in particular is that the cause of its decline may be from diseases from commercial bumble bees or rather, managed pollinators.” There are as many as 4,000 species of native bees in the United States and many of them are threatened. Jepsen says many people don’t realize how important bees are to our food supply and to the economy of an agricultural state like Iowa.

“Together, all of our pollinators provide pollination services to agriculture that are estimated to be worth $3 billion annually,” Jepsen says. “That, of course, includes our managed honey bees that we’re very familiar with as well as many other species of native bumble bees.” There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the decline in monarch butterfly populations and Iowans are being urged to plant certain plants, like milkweeds, to help that insect, which is also a vital pollinator.

“Planting hedgerows and flowering plants that bloom all throughout the year is a great thing to do for monarchs as well as bumble bees,” Jepsen says. “Avoiding using insecticides or being very careful about what types you use and how much you use will also help this bee.” Earlier this year, the White House released a strategy to protect native bees, honey bees and monarch butterflies. Jepsen says the national attention being given to pollinators has been great for native pollinator conservation.

The National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators is focused on protecting, restoring and enhancing their habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has launched a year-long review to determine if an Endangered Species Act listing is warranted for the rusty patched bumble bee. A decision is expected in September of 2016.

The Xerces Society is a non-profit conservation group, based in Portland, Oregon, which is focused primarily on invertebrates.