An order that would have landed a type of bumble bee on the United States' endangered species list beginning Friday has been swatted down by the Trump administration.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly announced in a Federal Register notice Thursday it has delayed a move that would have, for the first time in the history of the continental United States, placed a species of bumble bee under federal protection.
Now, the rusty patched bumble bee could have to wait until late March before any such protection would go into effect.
"The Trump administration has put the rusty patched bumble bee back on the path to extinction"
That postponement doesn't sound so sweet to supporters of the prodigious pollinator, which was once abundant along the East Coast through South Dakota and parts of Canada but has seen its numbers plummet by 87 percent in recent decades, scientists say. Bees play an important role in pollinating food crops.
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"The Trump administration has put the rusty patched bumble bee back on the path to extinction," said Rebecca Riley, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "This bee is one of the most critically endangered species in the country and we can save it — but not if the White House stands in the way."
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The council had partnered with the nonprofit Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to get the black-and-yellow bee under the Endangered Species Act, which currently includes the Florida panther and the whooping crane.
"Delays to protecting this already vulnerable pollinator may prove catastrophic," the Xerces Society said in a statement to NBC News.
The Fish and Wildlife Service's halt comes in response to President Donald Trump's Jan. 20 memo that said all federal agencies must postpone for 60 days any regulations published in the Federal Register but have yet to take effect. That was done, the White House said, to allow for "reviewing questions of fact, law, and policy [the regulations] raise."
The U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, did not immediately respond to whether the previously approved protection of the bumble bee could change under the new administration.
"We can’t imagine any legitimate basis to roll this rule back," Riley said. "The decision to protect the bee was based on a comprehensive scientific analysis after full public participation. There’s no scientific basis to reverse that conclusion — it couldn’t be more clear that this bee is imperiled and we need to take urgent steps to ensure its survival."
Protected species are given recovery plans to help boost their numbers while ensuring human activity doesn't violate the federal law.
But the law has its detractors.
The American Farm Bureau Federation was among the groups that opposed listing the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered, saying this week that the Endangered Species Act "imposes far-reaching regulatory burdens" on the agricultural industry.