Several bee species will not be considered as fish under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). A Sacramento Superior Court judge was reconsidering a tentative ruling which set aside a decision to classify bees as an endangered species. It was declared that the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) does not have the authority to designate bumblebees as a candidate species. In the recent ruling, Judge James Arguelles states that “a counterintuitive mental leap is required to conclude that bumblebees may be protected as fish.” The tentative ruling blocks the decision to have the Department of Fish and Wildlife start a review process for multiple species of bumblebees.
Last year the Commission voted to have four bee species become candidates for protections under the CESA. A broad coalition of agricultural organizations came together to try and prevent the bees from qualifying as an endangered species. Legal action was brought about by several industry groups including the California Farm Bureau Federation, Western Growers Association, and the California Association of Pest Control Advisors. The Western Agricultural Processors Association, California Citrus Mutual, Almond Alliance of California, and California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association were also named as plaintiffs in the case.
The four bee species at the heart of the issue are Franklin’s, Western, Crotch, and Suckley cuckoo bumblebees. A petition was initially filed by the Xerces Society, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Food Safety to have the bees listed as endangered. The argument was made that while insects typically cannot be considered an endangered species, the definition of ‘fish’ includes ‘invertebrates’ and should be applied. Ag groups raised concern that adding bees to CESA would create a host of logistical problems and liabilities moving forward.
The decision from Judge Arguelles is a tentative ruling. Agricultural groups have been appreciative of the decision but are aware of the potential for future action. If the decision stands, future litigation aimed at protecting the bee species may be brought by environmental groups.