Environmentalists on California Appeals Court Declare the Bumblebee to Be a Fish

(p. A9) What is black, yellow and coated in pollen?

Bumblebee, you say? A panel of top judges in California reviewed the matter and came up with fish, a judgment sending ripples across the state.

The unanimous ruling last week by a state appeals court was intended to straighten out a legal swarm involving conservationists, farmers and the interpretation of a scientifically challenged, half-century-old law.

. . .

(p. A10) California almond farmers were among those worrying about bees alighting on the endangered list. The state’s annual almond harvest, about 3 billion pounds, relies on bees pollinating as many as 1.3 million acres of the trees. Trade groups believe new protections would restrict farmers from working around bumblebees and prevent the use of pesticides, which protect trees but can hurt bees.

The farmers combed the text of California’s 1970 endangered-species law. It affords special protection to any endangered “bird, mammal, fish, amphibia or reptile.” Bees, farmers said, shouldn’t be included. The first California court to hear the case agreed, and the Fish and Game Commission appealed.

The commission pointed out that the legal definition of “fish” in California has been for years somewhat vague.

. . .

Justice Ronald Robie, author of the court’s opinion, is an expert in environmental law and wrote a textbook on the subject, according to his official biography. In his opinion, Justice Robie acknowledged the inevitable confusion.

“A fish, as the term is commonly understood in everyday parlance, of course, lives in aquatic environments,” he wrote, yet the court must follow its best interpretation of the legislature’s intent.

For the full story, see:

Matt Grossman. “In California, A Bumblebee Is a Fish.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, June 8, 2022): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 7, 2022, and has the title “When Is a Bumblebee a Fish? When a California Court Says So.”)

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