Saving Bumblebees and Beyond

The Crotch bumblebee, Bombus crotchii, is a species endemic to California that is in danger of extinction. Once found nearly state-wide, it is now only found in relatively undeveloped areas like the Santa Monica Mountains. This bee is listed on the IUCN Red List as an endangered species. Activists also want it listed under the California Endangered Species Act. Photo by Suzanne Guldimann

Adding bumblebees to the Endangered Species list may also save monarch butterflies.

Four bumble bee subspecies are poised to become the first insects to receive protection under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). 

The Xerces Society, Center for Food Safety, and Defenders of Wildlife petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission California Endangered Species Act (FGC) to list the Crotch bumble bee (Bombus crotchii), Franklin’s bumble bee (Bombus franklini), Suckley cuckoo bumble bee (Bombus suckleyi), and the western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis occidentalis) as endangered species under CESA.

The Crotch bumble bee is the only subspecies found in the Santa Monica Mountains. It was once common throughout the southern two-thirds of California and is now almost completely absent from most of its historic range, found only in the less developed areas at the edges of urban sprawl and agricultural development, according to the Commission report, which states “analyses suggest sharp declines in both relative abundance (98-percent decline) and persistence (80-percent decline) over the last ten years.”

The petition to list the bees was endorsed by twenty-four environmental non-governmental organizations, seventeen scientists, and approximately 1,200 members of the public, all urging FGC to grant candidate status for the four bumble bee species, citing population declines and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s decision to assign endangered or critically endangered status to three of the four bee species.

On June 13, the FGC voted 3-1 to consider listing the bees. The commission’s decision is significant because the original authors of CESA neglected to specify that the act covered terrestrial invertebrates  listed as threatened or endangered under CESA. 

Agricultural industry lobbyists opposed to the listing have argued for a strict interpretation of the law, but the Counsel for the FGC Commission has indicated that because California Fish and Game Code includes invertebrates in the category of fish, insects are also eligible for CESA.

Conservationists are hailing the Commission’s decision as a victory not just for the bees but potentially for another rapidly declining insect species, the Western monarch butterfly.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has postponed its decision on listing the monarch butterfly as an endangered species. The decision was scheduled for May 25, but has now been extended to December 15.

The delay was agreed to by the Center for Food Safety and Center for Biological Diversity, the organizations that petitioned the Service to formally assess the status of the butterfly, but it is spurring California activists and conservation organizations to push harder for state endangered species recognition. If the bees receive CESA consideration, there is a chance the monarch butterfly may, too, protection that can’t come soon enough, monarch archivists say.

An estimated 4.5 million monarchs overwintered in California in the 1980s. By mid-2010, the population had declined by an estimated 97 percent. According to the Xerces Society population study, for every 160 monarch butterflies there were in the 1980s, there is only one left today.

Local activists are also adding their voices to the push for change. 

“We are talking to state Senator Henry Stern,” Malibu Monarch Project founder Patt Healy told the Messenger Mountain News. The non-profit organization is dedicated to educating about and advocating for monarch butterflies and other pollinator species. “We would like to see [CESA] amended to include endangered insects, including the Western monarch butterfly,” Healy said. “This species is in danger of extinction. It has reached the tipping point and may not recover.”


Learn more about the statewide campaign to save bumble bees and the Western monarch at

For information on the Malibu Monarch Project, visit


Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at

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