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Franklin’s Bumble Bee, Last Seen On Mt. Ashland In 2006, Now Protected As Endangered Species

 A Franklin's bumble bee in lupine.
B. White/USFWS
A Franklin's bumble bee in lupine.

The Franklin’s bumble bee was last seen in its native habitat in 2006. But given the rugged, remote terrain along the Oregon-California border that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s extinct.

“Boots on the ground can only get you so far as far as finding these critters. They could very well be out there and we’re just not looking in the right places or potentially at the right times,” says Jeff Everett, the species lead for the Franklin’s bumble bee with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Portland.

While many bees live across the continental U.S., the Franklin’s bumble bee occupies just 13,000 acres in Douglas, Jackson and Josephine Counties in Oregon and Siskiyou and Trinity Counties in California. It’s the narrowest range of any bumble bee in North America and possibly the world, Everett says.

Protection under the ESA will open up funding and resources to try to find and protect Franklin’s bumble bees. Since they’re considered “habitat generalists” and their food sources are largely intact, the listing will not include a critical habitat designation under the federal environmental law that brings with it higher environmental protections.

Leaving out habitat protections is the wrong approach to protect them, according to Rich Hatfield, senior conservation biologist with the Xerces Society.

“This species has the smallest distribution of any bumble bee potentially in the world, and to say that it doesn’t require some sort of special habitat, I think, is way too early to make that assessment,” Hatfield says. “Without critical habitat, it’s hard to imagine how we move forward in terms of protecting the species or giving it a chance to recover should it be rediscovered.

The efforts to protect the Franklin’s bumble bee began in 2010 when the species was petitioned for protection by the Xerces Society and UC Davis professor and bumble bee researcher Robbin Thorp, who died in 2019.

The final rule of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was published Aug. 23 and will go into effect in 30 days. It’s the second bumble bee to be listed under the ESA after the rusty patched bumble bee.

Everett, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is optimistic about the enthusiasm to protect and conserve bees, including the new resources to find the extremely rare Franklin’s bumble bee.

“One of the most important things we can do for Franklin’s is find it on the landscape,” Everett says. “Once we know where they’re at we’ll be able to do more to meaningfully apply habitat conservation and habitat restoration actions that’ll benefit the critter.”

Copyright 2021 Jefferson Public Radio

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.