The next six-legged step: American Bumblebee closer to endangered status thanks to Albany Law Students, Prof. Keith Hirokawa

By Ben Meyers
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American Bumblebee

American Bumblebees got some needed help thanks, in part, to a group of Albany Law School students and Professor Keith Hirokawa on Sept. 29 as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officially announced that the insect may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. 

While not on the list yet, the announcement launches a one-year assessment into the species to determine if the bee should be added to the Endangered Species list.

The announcement is a response to a petition filed by a group of 14 students – with the unofficial moniker the “Bombus Pollinator Association of Law Students” or “BPALS,” for short – Hirokawa, and the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity on Feb. 1. The students’ work on the project began back in 2019 during Hirokawa’s Environmental Law class and culminated with the filing.

“The decline of pollinators such as the American Bumblebee can no longer be ignored,” said Hirokawa. “The circumstance is ripe for intervention to protect the species through the Endangered Species Act.”

“This is an important first step in preventing the extinction of this fuzzy black-and-yellow beauty that was once a familiar sight,” said the Center’s Jess Tyler in a statement. “To survive unchecked threats of disease, habitat loss and pesticide poisoning, American bumblebees need the full protection of the Endangered Species Act right now.”

Once one of the most common bees across the country, the American Bumblebee has nearly vanished from 16 states thanks to multiple threats, including habitat loss, pesticides, disease, climate change, and competition from honeybees. Overall, scientists have noted a 90% drop in observations of the bee over the past 20 years. 

Beyond biodiversity, the bee is an extremely important pollinator as its diverse diet makes it ideal for both wild plant life and the production of cultivate crops.

Beyond the bee, the department also announced it is launching assessments of the Long Valley speckled dace – a California-based fish – and the Siuslaw hairy-necked tiger beetle – a Washington-based insect.