The California Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed the state to consider protecting threatened bumblebees under a conservation law listing for fish.
The state's high court refused to grant a review sought by farming groups of a May appellate court ruling that allowed the California Fish and Game Commission to consider granting endangered species protection to four types of bumblebees under a 1970 conservation law that included the term “invertebrates" under the definition of fish, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
A 1984 law that replaced the original act removed overall protection of invertebrates but specifically left in place protection of the Trinity bristle snail. The appellate ruling said the logic that allowed a land-living mollusk to fall under the law must be applied when it comes to bumblebees.
The ruling said the state Legislature clearly intended that the use of the definition of fish in the law, “as a term of art, is not limited solely to aquatic species."
That decision came in a farming group challenge to a 2019 decision by the state Fish and Game Commission to consider protecting the bees. The commission barred anyone from killing them or destroying their habitat during its review.
The Supreme Court's refusal to review the appellate court decision allows it to become binding precedent for trial courts statewide. It also clears one obstacle to bumblebees becoming the first insect species protected by the California law.
“Insects, including bumblebees and other pollinators, are declining worldwide and need all the help they can get,” attorney Jenny Loda of the Center for Food Safety told the Chronicle on Wednesday.
In the filing denying a review, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote that the decision probably will be misconstrued.
“This case is not an endorsement (nor is it a rejection) of the statutory analysis undertaken by the Court of Appeal," Cantil-Sakauye wrote.
“Yet if experience is any guide, our decision not to order review will be misconstrued by some as an affirmative determination by this court that under the law, bumble bees are fish," Cantil-Sakauye wrote.
One of the species, Franklin’s bumblebee, was classified as endangered under federal law last year, and two others are being considered for federal protection.
The California Farm Bureau Federation and other groups had challenged their potential listing under California law. Their lawyer, Paul Weiland, said he was disappointed by the state Supreme Court decision.
“The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which for years took the public position that insects cannot be listed, is ill-equipped to handle the petitions to protect a range of insects that are headed its way and does not have the budget or expertise to do so,” Weiland said.