The rusty patched bumblebee, one of North America's most important pollinators, is officially an endangered species.
The bee — also known by its scientific name bombus affinis — is precariously close to becoming extinct, after its population disappeared from about 90 per cent of its range over the past 20 years. It was a vital pollinator of Canadian and U.S. crops like tomatoes and berries, before factors like pesticides, habitat loss and climate change put it in danger, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The impact of pollination on U.S. crops has been valued at US$3 billion each year, according to Scientific American.
The rusty patched bumblebee was once a common sight across North America. (Photo: Joel Page/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
The species was added to Ontario's at-risk species list in 2010. According to the Ontario government, the bees were once a common sight in the province but have only been seen at one provincial park on Lake Huron since 2002.
The bee's endangered status was first proposed in the U.S. in September, and the listing was supposed to become official on Feb. 10, but President Donald Trump's administration delayed the move until Tuesday as part of a decision to review all regulations enacted by former president Barack Obama's administration.
Just days after the listing was initially delayed, the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Fish and Wildlife Service, calling the delay dangerous and illegal.
"The Trump administration reversed course and listed the rusty patched bumblebee as an endangered species just in the nick of time. Federal protections may be the only thing standing between the bumblebee and extinction," said Rebecca Riley, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement.
Now that the bumblebee is federally protected in the U.S., it is illegal to hurt the bee or its habitat — one of the reasons that groups like the American Petroleum Institute protested the move.
The protection will not only make money available for preserves, but ban the use of pesticides or development in the bee's habitat, which will also aid other species of threatened bumblebees, biologist Rich Hatfield told Vocativ.
—With files from The Associated Press