On Monday, May 31, a court ruled that bees can piggyback off the technical definition of fish, which now qualifies them to be listed under the California Endangered Species Act. This ruling reversed a previous decision that denied that distinction in 2020.
According to a study in the journal Science, the odds of seeing a bumble bee have dropped 30 percent since the 20th century. Experts say it’s a direct result of climate change.
The dwindling bee count prompted several public interest groups, including the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, to petition that four species of bumble bees be added to the California Endangered Species Act.
These include the Crotch Bumble Bee, Franklin Bumble Bee, Suckle Cuckoo Bumble Bee, and the Western Bumble Bee.
“When the California Wildlife and Game Commission advanced these species to candidate status they essentially said the petition presented enough information to continue their review. They were sued by a large consortium of industrial agriculture interests,” said Sarina Jepsen, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation Program Director.
Fish and Wildlife fought the lawsuit, arguing that invertebrates, listed under the definition of fish in the Endangered Species Act, should be expanded to include bees and other insects.
In 2020, Sacramento County Superior Court ruled against that logic, stating the definition referred only to marine invertebrates, a ruling that the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation appealed and won just last week.
In a statement, the court said, “Although the term fish is colloquially and commonly understood to refer to aquatic species, the term of art employed by the Legislature in the definition of fish in section 45 is not so limited.”
“Of course, we all know that biologically bees are not fish but when the legislature created the term fish to include invertebrates they essentially were saying that our definition of fish applies and that includes invertebrates and bees are undoubtedly invertebrates,” explained Jepsen.
The goal of the Endangered Species Act is to protect and promote the recovery of species that are in danger of becoming extinct. Adding bees to the list gives them protections like prohibiting the import, export, or taking of the species.
Conservationists say this is a win not just for their groups but for society as a whole, which relies on the minute insect for life as we know it.
Eighty-five percent of flowering plants require a pollinator, which means a lot of the food we eat relies on bees for pollination.