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Judge Nixes Lumping Bees With Fish for Species Protection (1)

Nov. 20, 2020, 8:38 PMUpdated: Nov. 20, 2020, 9:38 PM

Even though bumblebees don’t have backbones, they still aren’t afforded the same protections as fish, according to a California judge.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge James Arguelles this week set aside a 2019 California Fish and Game Commission vote to consider listing four species of bumblebees under the state’s Endangered Species Act.

Insects aren’t specifically named as eligible for protection, but environmental groups argued bumblebees should fall under the protected category of fish because they are invertebrates.

The Almond Alliance of California, California Association of Pest Control Advisers, California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, and other agriculture industry groups sued, arguing that the decision overstepped the authority granted by the California Endangered Species Act, or CESA.

“The court readily agrees that CESA is construed broadly to achieve its purposes,” Arguelles wrote. “Here, however, the absence of authority to list insects under CESA, either as fish or otherwise, is clear.”

Nossaman LLP attorney Paul Weiland, who represented the Almond Alliance and others, was encouraged by the ruling, saying it could have been particularly challenging for farmers to spot bumblebees in the field and be able to identify if they were protected. In addition to agriculture, bumblebee protections could have affected housing, infrastructure, public works, and other projects, he said.

“The commission’s job is to execute the laws, not mold them to their liking.” Weiland said during a phone interview.

Four Sensitive Bumblebees

The Center for Food Safety, Defenders of Wildlife, and Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation filed the petition in 2018 to list Crotch, Franklin’s, Western, and Suckley cuckoo bumblebees, and intervened in the court case to defend the fish and game commission’s vote.

In a joint statement Friday, the groups said they were disappointed in the court’s decision and could seek legislation to clarify the law.

“In ruling that CESA does not protect terrestrial invertebrates, the court not only removed protection from the four sensitive bumblebee species, but took away future prospects for much needed protection from the state’s many imperiled insects that play critical roles in our agriculture and overall ecology,” they said. “We hope the State will appeal.”

Eric Sklar, the president of the Fish and Game Commission, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case is Almond All. of Cal. v. Cal. Fish and Game Comm’n, Cal. Super. Ct., No. 34-2019-80003216, Final Ruling 11/17/20.

(Story updated to include comment from Almond Alliance attorney. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily C. Dooley at edooley@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergindustry.com

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