Conservation group seeks endangered status for Mojave poppy bee

The Mojave poppy bee, location and date unspecified | Photo by Zach Portman, University of Minnesota, courtesy of the Center for Biological Diversity, St. George News.

ST. GEORGE A conservation group has petitioned the federal government to list a desert bee once seen in southwest Utah as endangered.

The Mojave poppy bee, location and date unspecified | Photo by Zach Portman, University of Minnesota, courtesy of the Center for Biological Diversity, St. George News.

The Center for Biological Diversity announced last month that it had petitioned the Department of the Interior to add the Mojave poppy bee to the endangered species list. The bee, which once existed across the Mojave Desert, is currently found in only seven locations in Clark County, Nevada.

The bees are specialized pollinators of the Las Vegas and dwarf bear poppies, meaning they pollinate no other flowers but those. Unlike the bee that pollinates them, the poppies are already protected to some degree.

The Las Vegas bear poppy is considered critically-endangered in Nevada, while the dwarf bear poppy, also known as the bear claw poppy and only found in Washington County, is federally-protected under the Endangered Species Act.

“If we don’t act quickly, we’re going to lose this beautiful little native bee as we watch two of the Mojave’s irreplaceable desert flowers continue to decline,” Tara Cornelisse, an entomologist and senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “Their story is a perfect example of why we can’t turn our backs on the plight of our imperiled native bees.”

The Mojave poppy bee was seen in Washington County up until 2014 and may has since gone extinct in the region, according to studies cited by the center.

We haven’t seen them in years,” said Erin O’Brien, chairwoman of Dixie State University’s department of biological science. O’Brien and many of her students have taken up studying the bear claw poppies in recent years.

Read more: What to do if you see bear claw poppies on the trail

According the Center for Biological Diversity, threats facing the remaining Mojave poppy bee population include grazing, gypsum mining and motorized recreation.

As the bees make their home underground, activities that disrupt the surface are considered a potential threat to their survival.

A bear claw poppy in bloom is tagged by Dixie State University students near one of many trails in the Bear Claw Poppy trail system just south of the Bloomington neighborhood of St. George, Utah, April 24, 2018 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

Other threats listed in the center’s 36-page petition include increasing urbanization and habitat fragmentation – which are considered among the reasons for the bee’s disappearance in Washington County – as well as completion with non-native bee species.

The potential loss of the Mojave poppy bee is also considered a threat to the Las Vegas poppy and Dwarf bear poppy. Other bees can pollinate the flowers but are not as effectively as the Mojave poppy bee, according the center’s petition.

Just as the decline of the bees is seen as a threat to the desert poppies, so too is the decline of the flowers, particularly the endangered Dwarf bear poppy, seen as a threat to the bees’ continued survival.

“Designating critical habitat and implementing a recovery plan pursuant to ESA listing are the only ways that these threats could be adequately managed to facilitate the return and recovery of the Mojave poppy bee in Utah,” the center’s petition states.

O’Brien said it would be wonderful to see the bees reintroduced in Washington County, noting that pollinators in general were having survival issues.

“Despite the growing evidence of the decline in bee populations, the rusty patched bumblebee is the only bee in the continental United States currently protected under the Endangered Species Act,” the center states in a press release.

According to the center, about 90 percent of wild plants and 75 percent of leading global food crops – including 35 percent of the global food supply – depend on animal pollinators for reproduction, and the great majority of that work is done by bees.

It is the small, unassuming species like the Mojave poppy bee that are crucial, O’Brien said.

This poppy bee is a vital part of the Mojave landscape that erupts into a gorgeous floral display in spring, attracting droves of nature lovers to the desert,” Cornelisse said. “If we lose this special bee, the Mojave Desert is at risk of losing three species that define its essence.”

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10 Comments

  • Skeptic November 15, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    This article begins with “A conservation group…”. Those who have been around western public lands for any length of time know the Center for Biological Diversity is just another Big Money Environmentalism group of radical anti-development activists who use use litigation to abuse the Endangered Species Act in repeated attempts to prevent human activity and multiple uses of our public lands. There is always another side to the story.

    • Comment November 15, 2018 at 10:19 pm

      Exactly 100% right. All “conservation group” are just liberal moneymaking scams. Liberals will lie to us and tell us bees are a good thing. But that’s a lie. Bees are no better than mosquitoes and really they should all be fumigated. They have no practical use and are just a nuisance. All they do is buzz around and sting people for no reason. I’d be in favor of a fumigating program to get rid of all bees. The liberals are just trying to take away everything fun.

      • bikeandfish November 16, 2018 at 12:13 am

        Seriously? Please tell me you are joking.

        You do know how many of our food staples are pollinated solely by bees?

        • Comment November 16, 2018 at 4:29 pm

          Bike, sometimes I wonder about you. You’ve seen 100s of my posts on this site, so what do you think?

        • bikeandfish November 16, 2018 at 6:04 pm

          Not to be rude, but you are all over the board on these issues, including science. You seem fine insulting liberals as much as you do conservatives. And you use psuedo-science to bolster your views as I highlighted in the other thread.

          Plus, it normally helps to throw in some indication of sarcasm as its not clearly communicated across these here interwebs. 😉

    • Neil November 16, 2018 at 7:55 am

      Spot on Skeptic. CBD’s staff is mostly comprised of attorneys. bikeandfish, the story clearly states that the bees only pollinate two types of poppies that are legally protected, so you better stop eating them.

      • bikeandfish November 16, 2018 at 9:40 am

        Please don’t take my comments out of context. I replied directly to comment who made an overly broad and incorrect claim:

        ” Liberals will lie to us and tell us bees are a good thing. But that’s a lie. Bees are no better than mosquitoes and really they should all be fumigated.”

        Fully aware the bee in detailed by this article is limited to a very narrow ecological niche. Lame response about “eating them”.

        People can dislike the activism of the Center for Biological Diversity but they have plenty of scientist on board band they win many legal battles because they often provide accurate legal arguments based on sound science. The ad hominem attacks them don’t undermine that reality. I don’t always agree with them but do understand they have a strong foundation to their work.

  • KR567 November 15, 2018 at 10:25 pm

    Build a wall and keep the other bees out

    • bikeandfish November 16, 2018 at 9:40 am

      That one made me laugh.

  • An actual Independent November 18, 2018 at 6:16 am

    Since I was a little tyke, over 50 years ago, I’ve read that “when the bees all die, the humans will all die.” The vast majority of the food supply is dependent on bees.

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