A rusty patched bumblebee, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed as endangered, gathers pollen in August 2015. (Photo courtesy of Rich Hatfield via Reuters)

 

On the eve of a Senate hearing Wednesday to consider “modernization of the Endangered Species Act,” an environmental conservation group sued the Trump administration for halting implementation of federal protections for the first bumblebee in history placed on the endangered list.

The Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service it oversees for delaying protections for the rusty patch bumblebee from Feb. 10 until at least mid-March without allowing public comment or hearings. The bee’s status as an endangered species was finalized in early January under the Obama administration.

“The Trump administration broke the law by blocking the rusty patched bumblebee from the endangered species list,” the NRDC said in a statement announcing its suit filed at a federal court in New York. “The science is clear — this species is headed toward extinction, and soon. There is no legitimate reason to delay federal protections for this bee. Freezing protections for the rusty patched bumblebee without public notice and comment flies in the face of the democratic process.”

The striped black and yellow pollinator with a long black tail “once flourished in 28 states and two Canadian provinces,” the NRDC said. “But the bee’s population and range have declined by approximately 90 percent in the last 20 years.”

Officials at the Interior Department declined to comment on the lawsuit, but a department spokeswoman, Heather Swift, said the agency “is working to review this regulation as expeditiously as possible and expects to issue further guidance on the effective date … shortly.”

Last week the agency announced that it published a notice of the delay in the Federal Register, overstepping procedures that involve notices of public hearings, the hearings themselves and comment from the public that can take up to a year.

Wildlife conservation groups described the delay and the upcoming Senate hearing led by Republicans as attacks on the 43-year-old Endangered Species Act. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee did not define what “modernization” meant, leaving one conservationist to offer her own definition.

“Modernization of the Endangered Species Act is code for gut and weaken,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and chief executive of Defenders of Wildlife. “The Endangered Species Act works. It has stopped extinction of 99 percent of listed species.”

Clark is one of two leaders of conservation groups scheduled to testify at the hearing. The other is the recently departed Fish and Wildlife director under Obama, Dan Ashe, who is now president and chief executive of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Others scheduled to testify include David Freudenthal, the former governor of Wyoming, a state that successfully fought a proposed federal threatened or endangered listing for the greater sage grouse. That chicken-like bird’s population plummeted as the western sage brush was developed, grazed by hundreds of thousands of cattle and opened to mineral mining and natural-gas drilling that drove the birds from their habitat.


A female red wolf is shown in its habitat at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, N.C. (AP)

Gordon S. Myers, executive director and president of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, is also scheduled to testify. The commission resisted a federal Fish and Wildlife program to restore critically endangered red wolves by establishing a population in North Carolina.

It issued a resolution calling on the agency to remove them from private lands in the red wolf recovery area near the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

Last September, a federal district court in North Carolina issued a preliminary injunction barring the Fish and Wildlife Service from capturing and removing red wolves in the state or issuing permits that allowed private landowners to kill the animals when they stray onto their property.

Following a lawsuit filed by several nonprofit environmental groups, Judge Terrence W. Boyle of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled that Fish and Wildlife was “enjoined from taking red wolves, either directly or by landowner authorization without first demonstrating that such red wolves are a threat to human safety or the safety of livestock or pets.”

Any other decision would ignore that Congress had mandated the program to prevent the extinction of red wolves, the judge said.

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