California Supreme Court ruling: Bumblebees are not endangered

Bumblebees can be classified as ‘fish’ under California conservation law, court says

By Kate Dubinski

California Supreme Court ruling: Bumblebees in the wild are no longer considered fish under the state’s ocean-turtle-trawl regulation law. The state’s highest court ruled in favor of five beekeepers on Monday, concluding that the bees are not a protected fish species. Beekeepers have been fighting for more than a decade to make the bees a protected species under California law. They’ve argued that the insects are a native species, and that the bees are essential to the pollination of crops and the native ecosystem, but critics have disputed their claim that the bees are an endangered species.

For the past 50 years the state of California had been regulating the importation and sale of wild bumblebees into the state, in hopes of helping local and organic agriculture. In 2009 the United States Department of Agriculture had designated the bees as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. The state law, however, was designed so that the bees could be sold to local farmers to help with pollination.

Bumblebees are important in California’s agricultural landscape. They pollinate and serve as a food source for hundreds of native pollinators.

But the bees were never intended to be considered a federally listed endangered species. There is some speculation as to how this may have happened, given that the rules around the law are in-complete. But if that is indeed the case, it highlights how complicated the process around listing species is. For more background on the legal battle to protect the bees, check out this story.

Beekeepers had long fought in court for the designation. They began a federal lawsuit in 2009, and after years of litigation, in August, a federal judge, George Wu, dismissed the lawsuit, noting that the designation was a political decision that was made under the USDA rather than the law. California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris said the USDA had been inconsistent in protecting the species, in some cases delaying action on a designation while a case was being decided.

In June, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that the USDA had been incorrect in its interpretation of who, legally, could designate bumblebees endangered, and declared that the USDA had exceeded its jurisdiction in making its designation

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