(Reuters) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday proposed listing the rusty patched bumble bee, a prized but vanishing pollinator once widely found in the upper Midwest and Northeastern United States, for federal protection as an endangered species.
One of numerous wild bee species facing sharp declines, the rusty patched bumble bee is the first in the continental United States formally proposed for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, according to the Xerces Society, which petitioned for its protection.
Once abundant and widespread with hundreds of populations across its range, the rusty patched bumble bee's numbers and distribution have plunged by more than 90 percent since the late 1990s, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The agency attributes the decline to a number of factors, including disease, pesticides, climate change and habitat loss.
Bumble bees, as distinguished from domesticated honey bees, are important pollinators of wildflowers and many important crops.
The rusty patched bumble bee is one of 47 varieties of native bumble bees in the United States and Canada, 28 percent of which face a risk of extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
The public comment period initiated by the proposed listing runs through Nov. 21, 2016, after which the agency could revise its proposal or finalize a decision.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Sandra Maler)