Four at-risk wild bee species are overdue for listing under SARA
Buzzing along, providing essential pollination services for both wild plants and cultivated crops, wild bees fulfill many important functions necessary to ensuring we have healthy ecosystems and flourishing agricultural economies. Unfortunately in recent years, we have seen a steep decline in the wild bee populations we depend on so much.
Honeybees are often the species most associated with dwindling bee numbers -- in the winter of 2013-14, Ontario beekeepers lost 58 per cent of the province's honeybee population -- but what people may not know is that the honeybee is not alone. Many other bee species are in decline as well, and some have become threatened or endangered. The Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee, Western Bumble Bee occidentalis and mckayi subspecies, and Macropis Cuckoo Bee have all been recommended for listing under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
Unfortunately, when it comes to protecting these important wild pollinators, the federal government has not lived up to its responsibilities under SARA. Since COSEWIC first supplied its assessments to the Minister of Environment last year, no steps have been taken to add these four bee species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk -- no species receives any protection under SARA until it has been added to the List.
That's why Ecojustice lawyers -- on behalf of the Wilderness Committee, David Suzuki Foundation, Equiterre, Friends of the Earth and Ontario Nature -- sent a letter to the Minister on Monday, urging her to act now to protect the bees:
"Although the Government of Canada received these assessment reports over nine months ago, you have not met your statutory deadline to add these species to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk ("the List") in accordance with COSEWIC's assessment. The listing of three of these species are now overdue, and the fourth is grossly overdue. [...] Our clients respectfully request that you act immediately to issue an order amending the List."
The federal government's inaction leaves these bees vulnerable in the face of growing threats to their survival and recovery.
One particularly dangerous threat is the increasing use of bee-killing pesticides, called neonicotinoids or "neonics" for short. In 2012, Health Canada confirmed the link between the high number of bee deaths and the use of neonics on corn seed. Since then, the evidence of neonics' lethal and chronic effects (including impairing natural forging behaviour) on pollinator species has continued to mount.
Scientific studies have also linked these pesticides to a wide range of harmful effects on other important species, including birds, butterflies, and earthworms.
Although the Ontario government has restricted the use of neonics on soy and corn seeds, Ontario's regulation does not help the wild bee populations in provinces outside of Ontario, where there are no limits on the use of neonics in place.
And of course, neonics are not the only threat that wild bee populations face. Disease, habitat loss, pests, and increasingly, climate change also endanger their survival and recovery.
They may be tiny, but wild bees are part of a critical network of pollinators vital to the functioning of our ecosystems and agricultural systems -- when it comes to their pollination services, wild pollinators generally outperform honeybees. One study found that crops pollinated by wild pollinators resulted in higher yields than ones that had been pollinated by honeybees. Wild pollinators can also pollinate some plant species that honeybees are unable to pollinate.
We cannot afford to stand by while these fundamental species continue to die off. And we can't afford to let the federal government continue to stand by, either.
As Canada's only national environmental law charity, Ecojustice is building the case for a better earth. Learn more at www.ecojustice.ca.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
Many people are aware of bumblebees and honeybees, but did you know there are 20,000 species of bees worldwide? In North America alone there are over 4,000 species of bees. Honeybees, probably the species the public is most aware of, are not even native to the United States but were brought over by early settlers. Native North American bee species include bumblebees, mason bees and orchard bees.
When people think of bees, they tend to think of insects that are yellow and black. While these colors appear on some species, bees can actually be found in a wide range of colors. They can be amber, metallic green or deep metallic blue-black, and can have turquoise or emerald eyes. “The beauty of other [bee] species blows people away,” says Spevak. “They are so diverse.”
One of the biggest worries people have about bees is being stung, However, according to Spevak, bees are not aggressive. “Bees normally can care less about you," Spevak says. "It’s very difficult to actually get stung by most bees.” Honeybees and bumblebees may become aggressive if you approach their hive or colony because they will attempt to protect it, but unless they are provoked, most bees will leave you alone.
According to Spevak, 70 percent of native bees nest in the ground and most bees are solitary. The social nature of bumblebees and honeybees is actually considered odd. “Some bees don’t mind living next to each other," says Spevak. "Like an apartment, they’ll share an entrance but have their own individual spaces." Ground nesting bees are also not aggressive. Even running a lawn mower over their nest will tend to get little reaction.
Beekeeping is no longer only for professionals. According to Belli, there are more hobbyist beekeepers now than ever before. “Hobbyist beekeepers may be the salvation of bees. They introduce a great deal of diversification,” Belli says. “It’s a great hobby and very enjoyable.” There are a number of local beekeeping clubs in every state where you can learn more about becoming a beekeeper.
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