"It is a great day for California’s bumble bees. Today’s decision confirms that California Endangered Species Act protections apply to all of our state’s imperiled native species and is critical to protecting our state’s renowned biodiversity."

Pamela Flick, California Program Director, Defenders of Wildlife
Sacramento, Calif.

California's Third District Court of Appeal ruled that the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) can protect invertebrates, including four species of imperiled native bumble bees that Defenders of Wildlife, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation (Xerces), and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) petitioned the State of California to protect in 2018.  

The Stanford Environmental Law Clinic represented the conservation groups in this appeal, which challenged a 2020 decision by the Sacramento County Superior Court that the California Fish and Game Commission (the Commission) lacked authority to list invertebrates under CESA, including the four bumble bee species at issue in this case. The Commission, along with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), also filed an appeal to challenge the trial court's ruling.

“We are celebrating today’s decision that insects and other invertebrates are eligible for protection under CESA. The Court’s decision allows California to protect some of its most endangered pollinators, a step which will contribute to the resilience of the state’s native ecosystems and farms,” said Sarina Jepsen, Xerces Society’s Director of Endangered Species.  

Eastern bumble bees pollinating Joe pye weed
USFWS/ Mara Koenig

This decision paves the way for critical protections needed for four imperiled bumble bee species that occur in California, as well as allowing the Commission to protect other imperiled insects under CESA. CESA provides protection for some of the most vulnerable plants and animals in California and provides a pathway to recover populations of these species so they will not go extinct.   

“With one out of every three bites of food we eat coming from a crop pollinated by bees, this court decision is critical to protecting our food supply,” said Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director at Center for Food Safety. “The decision clarifies that insects such as bees qualify for protections under CESA, which are necessary to ensure that populations of endangered species can survive and thrive.”

In 2018, Xerces, CFS, and Defenders petitioned the Commission to list the four species of native bumble bees as endangered under CESA. As a result of the groups' petition, the Commission voted to begin the listing process in 2019, but was sued by a consortium of California's large scale industrial agricultural interests shortly after its decision. The agricultural consortium argued that insects, such as the four bumble bee species, may not be listed for protection under CESA, and the trial court sided with the consortium of large industrial agricultural groups in November 2020, prompting the conservation groups, CDFW, and the Commission to launch an appeal in February 2021.

“It is a great day for California’s bumble bees. Today’s decision confirms that California Endangered Species Act protections apply to all of our state’s imperiled native species and is critical to protecting our state’s renowned biodiversity,” said Pamela Flick, California Program Director with Defenders of Wildlife. “Bees and other pollinators are integral to healthy ecosystems and the crucial pollination services they provide serve all of us, making this decision exponentially more consequential.”

Bumble bees are essential pollinators, and the loss of bumble bees can have far ranging ecological consequences. Alarmingly, recent work by the Xerces Society in concert with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Bumble Bee Specialist Group indicates that more than one quarter (28%) of all North American bumble bees are at risk of extinction. This decision not only allows protection for four highly imperiled species of bumble bee to move forward, it also clarifies California’s ability to protect other insects, like the monarch butterfly. Millions of monarch butterflies used to call California home but the California population has declined by 95% since the 1980s, threatening an end to one of nature’s most dazzling displays in the majestic coastal monarch groves.

Sam Joyce, a certified law student with the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic who argued the case in the Third District, said of the court’s decision: “CESA is one of the important tools we have to protect and restore endangered species. The court’s ruling, which is grounded in the California Legislature’s plain words and intent, ensures that CESA will fulfill its purpose of conserving ‘any endangered species’ by protecting the full range of California’s biodiversity, including terrestrial invertebrates.”

Protecting these species will help to maintain the healthy ecosystems that make California such a remarkable and productive state. 

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.


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