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September 30, 2022 - Habitat Restoration for an Endangered Bumble Bee

submitted by Jade Arneson

Chances are you’ve seen a queen bumble bee buzzing happily around, entering and emerging from nests in the ground, or maybe you’ve seen worker bumble bees foraging for nectar and pollen on some of your favorite backyard flowers. The sights and sounds of bumble bees have had biologists’ attention for some time now, but one species has been generating quite the buzz: the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis). 

The rusty patched bumble bee was once abundant and widespread in the eastern United States and upper Midwest, as well as several Canadian provinces, but by 2017 the species experienced widespread population declines and contractions of its range by more than 80%. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed the species as federally endangered in 2017 and finalized the recovery plan in 2021. Wisconsin is home to some of the last populations of the rusty patched bumble bee; in fact, the species has been documented in Brown County, including urban areas, parks, gardens and backyards.

The USFWS is actively engaged in the conservation of this species alongside numerous partners. Work includes, but is not limited to: surveys and monitoring, conservation planning, research, outreach, and habitat restoration and enhancement. Members of the public can play a key role in much of this work. For example, private landowners looking to retire cropland can direct-seed a diversity of native grasses and forbs preferred by rusty patched bumble bee. Those looking to enhance their woodlands can control invasive species that threaten woodland edge habitat and shade out early spring floral resources that the rusty patched bumble bee uses. A variety of restoration activities can help meet rusty patched bumble bee habitat objectives, which include enhancing or restoring nesting, foraging, and overwintering habitat and implementing best management practices for land management activities such as mowing, haying, prescribed fire, and pesticide use. The restoration or enhancement activities a landowner may choose depend on the parcel, habitat goals, technical feasibility, and even funding. Plus, these activities not only benefit rusty patched bumble bee, but other pollinators, non-pollinating insects, birds, and soil and water resources.

Landowners who are interested in habitat restoration and enhancement for rusty patched bumble bee can contact Jade Arneson, a USFWS biologist stationed in the Green Bay field office (, 920-328-4450). Recreational landowners, forest landowners, farmers, local governments, universities, tribes, corporations and nonprofits can all participate. Jade can further discuss this opportunity and assist landowners through the conservation planning process with free technical and financial assistance. Projects can vary in size and scope but must be located within or adjacent to a high potential zone for rusty patched bumble bee and have a minimum duration of 10 years. Participating landowners do not forfeit property rights and are not required to allow public access.