California’s Superior Court has ruled the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) does not cover insects and that bees cannot be classified as fish, overturning a determination by the state’s Fish and Game Commission.
Insects = Fish
In 2018 the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Food Safety submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission (CFGC) to add the four bumble bee species to the list of endangered species under the CESA.
The CFGC accepted the petition in 2019, agreeing with the environmental groups that bees and other insects could be counted as invertebrates which are covered under the CESA within the definition of “fish” in Section 45 of the Fish and Game Code (FGC). Once CFGC determined insects could be counted as candidates for protection under the CESA, this opened the way for bee species to be listed as endangered and thus protected under the law.
In the case, Almond Alliance of California v. California Fish and Game Commission, the Almond Alliance of California and seven other agricultural groups sued to overturn CFGC’s determination that the CESA could be stretched to cover bees or other insects as “invertebrates” under the definition of fish.
Plaintiffs were concerned, if the CFGC’s determination bees counted as fish were upheld, and CFGC ultimately found the four candidates bee species were endangered and must be protected, agricultural activities could be sharply curtailed. They noted, once listed as endangered CFGC could prohibit activities which disturb bumble bees’ habitats and nesting sites, such as plowing, ripping up soil, clearing brush or weeds, and trimming or removing trees. In addition, CFGC could restrict the use of pesticides or grazing.
Judge Agrees Bees Aren’t Fish
In their arguments before the Superior Court, plaintiffs pointed out the CESA defines candidate threatened and endangered species as “native species or subspecies of a bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, or plant.” In writing the law, plaintiffs pointed out, the California legislature could have but did not list insects as candidate species. In addition, the California Office of Administrative Law and the California Office of the Attorney General have previously determined insects cannot be listed under CESA, and no insects are presently listed as threatened or endangered under CESA.
In his November 19 ruling, Judge James P. Arguelles agreed with the plaintiffs, ruling the CFGC was not authorized by the CESA to give four species of bumble bees, or other insects, candidate-species status because the California Legislature was clear in the CESA that insects were not covered under the law. As a result, Arguelles set aside the Commission’s decision.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D.(firstname.lastname@example.org)is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.