Recently Expanded Conservation Law Could Help Save California’s Bees – Quartz

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Four species of bumblebees are now protected under California’s endangered species law. The 1970 law was originally drafted to protect fish, which legally encompasses all invertebrates, including snails and other insects important to biodiversity. Since insects were not explicitly listed as an endangered type of species, the designation under invertebrates paves the way for protection. Public interest groups began pushing for bees to be included in this law from 2018 due to the importance of insects in agriculture and their recently declining numbers – a dangerous combination that could cost billions to the state and jeopardize the country’s food security. The recently expanded law means bees are more likely to be kept in their original habitats, giving them a better chance of seeing their populations rise again.

Whether you know it or not, much of the food you eat depends on bees. Bees pollinate three out of four crops (pdf) that produce fruit or seeds for human consumption and 35% of the world’s agricultural land, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, bees contribute $217 billion to the global economy and $11.7 billion in California alone. The protection and construction of habitats for pollinators maintains the balance of agricultural production and food security.

Proponents say legal protections for bees are needed because their populations are drastically declining. Some farmer groups are resisting legal protection for bees because many farms depend on pesticides and California accounts for 20% of all pesticides used in the United States. Excessive use of pesticides kills bees; in 2006, this became known as “colony collapse disorder”, when bees cannot repopulate their hives, leading to mass deaths. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that the number of bees in the United States has fallen from 6 million in the 1940s to 2.5 million in 2021, a drop of 42%. And the problem isn’t slowing: Between April 2020 and April 2021, 46% of managed bee colonies in the United States died, the second highest annual loss on record.

The new legal status for endangered bees builds on other efforts to protect bee populations. In 2019, California enacted a law requiring beekeepers to register their bee hives so bees can be mapped and tracked through the BeeWhere platform. Pest management advisors use the tool to determine if a hive is within a mile of a site that may be using pesticides, potentially putting them at risk of colony collapse. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife also monitors endangered bumblebee populations.

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