The Mojave poppy bee may gain federal protection after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday it will consider listing the species as endangered.
The agency’s decision to launch a one-year “status review” comes in response to a petition filed in 2018 by the Center for Biological Diversity to protect the quarter-inch-long bee.
If ultimately listed, it would mark the first time a native, solitary bee species in the U.S receives protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Mojave poppy bees now remain in just seven locations in Clark County after once thriving across much of the Mojave Desert. The bee’s numbers have dwindled amid ongoing threats to its habitat from grazing, recreation (including motorized vehicles), invasive honey bees, and gypsum mining.
“This is a first step toward preventing the extinction of these important native bees, but their survival depends on quickly getting the Endangered Species Act’s full protection,” said Tara Cornelisse, an entomologist and senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These bees may be tiny but they play an important role in maintaining the health of the unique Mojave Desert ecosystem.”
The Center says the failure of current state and regional regulatory mechanisms — including the Clark County Multispecies Habitat Conservation Plan — are also contributing to the decline of the bee.
Pollinators like the Mojave poppy bee play an essential role in maintaining the food supply, says the Center. The bee’s pollinating skills are tightly linked to the survival of two rare desert poppy flowers, and as the bees have disappeared, so have those flowers.
The Mojave poppy bee was first described by scientists in 1993. It once inhabited at least 34 known sites across Nevada, California, Arizona and Utah. Its current range is reduced to just seven known sites in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and adjacent Bureau of Land Management land in Clark County.
“This poppy bee is a vital part of the Mojave landscape that erupts into a gorgeous floral display in spring, attracting droves of nature lovers to the desert,” said Cornelisse. “Unless this bee is protected, the Mojave Desert is at risk of losing three species that define its essence.”
The Endangered Species Act has protected more than 1,000 species since it became law in 1973. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will now initiate a scientific status review and public comment period before making a final decision on whether to protect the bee.