On Friday, seven yellow-face bee species native to the Hawaiian Islands were declared endangered, marking the first time any bees in the US have received this designation. These species will fall under the protection of the Endangered Species Act on October 31st. While this comes with a number of safeguards, conservation groups have criticized the lack of protection provided for the bee’s habitats.
Spokesman for the Xerces Society Matthew Sheppard said the designation “excellent news for these bees, but there is much work that needs to be done to ensure that Hawaii’s bees thrive. Unfortunately, the USFWS has not designated any ‘critical habitat,’ areas of land of particular importance for the endangered bees.”
The Xerces Society is a conservation group focusing on the protection of pollinators and invertebrates, on the basis of their vital role in many ecosystems. The group began urging the US Fish and Wildlife Service to act on behalf of bees in 2009.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated that it will protect habitats on behalf of the bees, but that the group needs more time to determine which habitats are most in need of protection. In posting the new decision, they added “Accordingly, we find designation of critical habitat to be ‘not determinable’ at this time.” The yellow-faced bees in question inhabit a variety of Hawaiian ecosystems, from forests to high-altitude alpine deserts. They are essential to the pollination of many native Hawaiian plants.
Sarina Jepson, another spokesperson for the group, explained that the main threats to the bee population include “feral pigs, invasive ants, loss of native habitat due to invasive plants, fire, as well as development, especially in some of the coastal areas.”
The bees were not the only species to receive this new designation on Friday. 42 other species were classified as endangered, including the band-rumped storm-petrel, orange-black Hawaiian damselfly, a species of shrimp, and 39 plant species. The Center for Biological Diversity pointed towards a number of growing dangers threatening these species, including invasive species, increased human interaction, climate change, and destruction of habitats.
Recovery director at the center, Loyal Merhoff, praised the new designation, saying “The Endangered Species Act has already saved hundreds of Hawaiian species from extinction, so this is great news for these irreplaceable plants and animals.”