Demise of rare isle bees warned


POSTED: Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An Oregon-based environmental group petitioned the federal government yesterday to list seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees as endangered.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation wants the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the species because it is in “;imminent danger”; of extinction.

“;These bees are in terrible shape, and without action they are going to slide into extinction like other Hawaii species,”; said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the society, located in Portland.

The society contends the bees are critical pollinators of many endangered Hawaii plants, and the bees' decline could lead to the plants' extinction. It also asserts protection of the bees could lead to recovery of the plants.

The tiny yellow-faced bees, which grow to about a half-inch long, are Hawaii's only native bee species. They live on all Hawaiian islands and in varying environments, including coastlines, dry and wet forests, and shrub lands.

But development has destroyed much of their habitats, particularly the plants that the bees pollinate, Black said. Feral pigs also eat or root up those plants. And the bees are directly threatened by invasive ants.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is likely to respond to the society's petition in about a year, Black said. If it decides to list the species, land management decisions in areas where the bees live would have to take their presence into account and possibly mitigate further destruction of habitat, he added.

For example, a new road may have to be rerouted so the bee's habitat could be avoided, or a residential complex may have to preserve open land as habitat, Black said.

Another practical impact of an endangered species listing is that funding becomes available to address the impact on the bees' habitat, Black said.

The petition also could result in the bees' plight gaining more attention from the Fish and Wildlife Service as it begins to draft management plans for a number of Hawaii species, Black added.

“;We need to take a commonsense approach and take into consideration the native species that were here first,”; he said.

The seven species are Hylaeus anthracinus, Hylaeus longiceps, Hylaeus assimulans, Hylaeus facilis, Hylaeus hilaris, Hylaeus kuakea and Hylaeus mana.