MEDFORD, Ore. — A dwindling species of bumblebee unique to southern Oregon and parts of northern California will now be recognized for federal protections under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency revealed on Monday.
The Franklin's bumblebee (Bombus franklini) is believed to reside across Douglas, Jackson, and Josephine counties in Oregon, as well as Siskiyou and Trinity counties in California. This relatively small range makes it one of the most narrowly distributed bumblebee species in the world.
Wildlife officials believe that that the species may still exist in the region, though the last confirmed sighting occurred back in 2006. The U.S. Forest Service cited the Fender's blue butterfly as an example of a species that was believed extinct for decades, but was spotted again in Oregon during 1989. The species has since started to recover.
“Protecting native bees like Franklins’ bumblebee will help ensure our native plants, gardens and crops will continue to have an adequate supply of pollinators,” said Robyn Thorson, USFWS Columbia Pacific Northwest Regional Director. “We have hope that this bee will be seen again as we continue to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and researchers to locate them and manage their habitat.”
In its final rule, USFS determined that setting aside critical habitat for the Franklin's bumblebee was "not beneficial and, therefore, not prudent" because disease or other man-made factors, including pesticides, are likely the primary threat to the species. The Center for Biological Diversity countered that this ruling hinges on a Trump-era regulatory change that environmental groups are currently challenging in federal court, which the Center says does not take into account how habitat plays a role in protecting species from other threats.
“Franklin’s bumblebee is one of the rarest in the world, and it will surely tumble into extinction without Endangered Species Act protections,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a good step for these bumblebees, but the federal failure to protect critical habitat will make recovery an uphill battle. There’s just no way to save species like this unique bumblebee without protecting the places they live.”
The Franklin's bumblebee is believed to nest underground in abandoned rodent burrows and other spaces that allow room for shelter and food storage. One colony was discovered in a residential garage in Medford. The USFWS said that the bees have historically been found at elevations between 540 and 7,800 feet, often finding food among the colder climates of alpine flowering plants.
“The level of public and interagency engagement in the bumble bee survey efforts has been incredible,” said Glenn Casamassa, the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Regional Forester. “The primary habitat for this bee in Oregon is on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. While this species has not been detected there since 2006, our employees continue to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on sampling historic and suitable habitats in order to conserve and recover this species. There’s a collective sense of urgency to protect native pollinators, and this effort highlights not only the strength of our interagency partnerships but also the strength of research and citizen science efforts in Southwest Oregon.”