The rusty patched bumble bee is one step closer to becoming the first bee in the United States to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.Its range has shrunk by 92 percent since the 1990s, a major reason that the Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list it as endangered. The service's proposed listing rule was issued Wednesday The Xerces Society, which petitioned FWS to list the species in 2013, said the bee “is not only an important pollinator of prairie wildflowers but also of cranberries, blueberries, apples, alfalfa and numerous other crops.”But the bee's current distribution, which included 31 states as recently as the 1990s, “is limited to just one to a few populations in each of 12 states and Ontario,” FWS said in its proposal. The number of populations has declined by 91 percent, from 845 in the 1990s to 69 currently, the service said. FWS could not point to one reason for the bee's decline.

Agri-Pulse reports could what could be his final appearance on Capitol Hill, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack defended the farm economy as basically sound last week but appealed for flexibility from Congress to aid dairy producers and other struggling sectors. Vilsack also promised the Senate Agriculture Committee that the livestock and poultry industry would be allowed to provide feedback on contract regulations that the Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Administration is expected to issue before President Obama leaves office.