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Bumble Bees Are Endangered? What’s the Buzz?

Western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis)
Thinking
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by Allison Fuller and Linda Leeman

Four bumble bee species, Crotch bumble bee (Bombus crotchii), Franklin’s bumble bee (Bombus franklini), western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis), and Suckley’s cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus suckleyi), were designated as candidates for listing as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) by the California Fish and Game Commission on June 12, 2019. Shortly after this decision, the California Fish and Game Commission and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) were sued by several agricultural industry groups led by the Almond Alliance. On November 13, 2020, the Superior Court of Sacramento ruled that terrestrial invertebrates (e.g., insects) are not eligible for listing under CESA, thus, vacating the candidacy of these species. CDFW subsequently appealed this decision, and on May 31, 2022, the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento reversed the lower court’s decision by ruling that insects are eligible for listing under CESA.

These court decisions focused on the definition of “fish” in Sections 2062 (endangered species), 2067 (threatened species), and 2068 (candidate species) of CESA, and whether terrestrial invertebrates, including bumble bees, are included under this definition. Although the analogy to fish with its plain public meaning has caused confusion in the media (and some catchy headlines), the Legislature amended the legal term-of-art to define “fish” in state code as: “… a wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals.” (Statutes of 2015, ch. 154, § 5.) Because insects are invertebrates, the court concluded bumble bees are eligible for CESA listing. This most recent ruling determined that the legislative history supports the broad interpretation of CESA and that the California Fish and Game Commission may designate any invertebrate as a candidate species under Section 2068, if the species or subspecies may otherwise qualify as an endangered or threatened species.

Based on this most recent ruling, the candidacy under CESA of the four bumble bee species may be reinstated by CDFW. Additional information regarding CDFW and the California Fish and Game Commission’s strategy to reinstate the candidacy of these species, as well as important implications for the environmental review and implementation of projects within the range of these species, will be distributed in a future AscentShare.

Any Questions?

Allison Fuller

Allison Fuller

Senior Wildlife Biologist
Linda Leeman

Linda Leeman

Principal – Natural Resources

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