Four species of imperiled bumble bees native to California remain eligible for protection under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) after the state’s Supreme Court denied efforts by agricultural and pesticide interests to appeal a lower court's decision. In May 2022, California’s Third District Court of Appeal ruled unanimously in favor of the state and a group of conservation organizations, including Defenders of Wildlife, which held that bees and other insects can be protected under CESA. The four bee species, the western, Franklin’s, Suckley cuckoo, and Crotch’s bumble bee, have experienced significant population declines in their native ranges, and protections are needed to prevent their extinction.
“Bees and other pollinators are critical to promoting healthy ecosystems and strengthening biodiversity. They provide crucial pollination services that help fuel the plants that feed America. We applaud the court for recognizing just how important these species are to the complex agricultural systems on which we rely,” said Shawn Cantrell, vice president for field conservation with Defenders of Wildlife.
The protracted legal battle began in 2018 when the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife and Center for Food Safety petitioned for the protection of the four bee species. The California Fish and Game Commission voted to initiate the listing process in 2019, however, a consortium of agribusiness and pesticide manufacturer interests sued to halt the process. Opponents argued that insects, such as the bees, were not eligible for protection under the CESA.
After a trial court sided with the consortium in 2020, conservation groups, represented by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, joined with the Commission and the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife to appeal the decision. In May 2022, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled unanimously for the conservation groups and the state in holding that bees and other insects can be protected under the CESA. The California Supreme Court’s decision not to hear an appeal by the consortium lets stand the Third District Court’s ruling.
“We are elated with the California Supreme Court’s decision,” said Sarina Jepsen, endangered species director with the Xerces Society. “Now, some of California’s most endangered pollinators may be saved from extinction.”
Bees and other insects are key to maintaining biodiversity and sustaining agricultural systems. Many of the seed- and fruit-producing plants that feed birds and small animals rely on natural pollinators like bees and other insects to thrive. As a result of this ruling, other terrestrial invertebrates threatened with extinction in California are eligible for protection under the state's ESA. In protecting the diversity of insect species in California, conservationists can ensure that these species have a pathway to recover populations and continue to play the pivotal role in the state's ecosystem.