Bees Get Stung by Decision to Scale Back National Monument

One year after President Trump slashed the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in half, new research shows that at least 80 species could be harmed.

And that’s just the bees.

Trump’s proclamation noted President Clinton had declared the Utah wilderness “one of the richest floristic regions in the Intermountain West.” But it asserted that Clinton identified “only a few” species worth protecting—and those few species would still do fine after Trump fractured the monument and shrunk it by 870,000 acres.

As the courts decide whether Trump’s move was legal, bees could face new problems from human disturbances made worse by climate change (though some may ultimately benefit).

Researchers have spent years studying all the bee species—660, they believe—that live within the national monument’s 1.7 million acres. Much remains a mystery. There’s almost as many bee species in Grand Staircase-Escalante as there are east of the Mississippi, said Olivia Messinger Carril, one of the study’s authors. The findings were published in the journal PeerJ.

They include highly specialized creatures whose range is the size of a living room. Some live off a single kind of cactus or venture into the open air for a few weeks each year. Others are as small as George Washington’s nose on the quarter, she said.

Trump split the monument into three pieces while removing protections from about half the area, at the recommendation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. He did the same with another Utah national monument, Bears Ears. Environmentalists have sued to stop it, arguing that presidents don’t have the power to undo monument protections (E&E News PM, Dec. 4, 2017).

The move could bring more grazing and motor vehicles. And the newly unprotected areas include some bees known only in the Mojave Desert.

“These are ‘edge’ populations,” study author Joseph Wilson, a Utah State University professor, said in a statement.

“That is, in the face of climate change, they could be the first to go extinct as the region gets hotter and drier, or the area could provide a refuge for populations of the same species now inhabiting the Mojave Desert,” he said.

The researchers were relieved to find that more than 86 percent of the monument’s bee species still had some range within the newly redrawn borders.

Global warming might push some of them out of those boundaries. But it’s very difficult to predict, Carril said, because researchers barely have names for some of these species, let alone a sophisticated grasp of their lifestyles.

For instance, roads typically harm ecosystems by fragmenting habitat. But in the Southwest, rain collects in roadside ditches and can bring more flowers. So it’s possible a few of the more robust bee species might be able to adapt to the changing conditions, Carril said.

Researchers don’t really know what would happen if these bees disappeared, she said, unlike with honeybees, which have been studied in detail.

“I don’t think that makes them any less valuable,” Carril said. “The fact that we don’t know about them yet gives them value. We need to understand these bees better before we go making decisions about them.”

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.



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