Despite declining U.S. bee populations remaining a critical, national issue, the City of Afton is pressing ahead with a sewage project that threatens one of the the last known habitats of the endangered Rusty-patched Bumble Bee

The Rusty-patched Bumble Bee (Photo: Dan Mullen/CC)

All sorts of fruit and vegetables are pollinated by honey bees. Pollination is not just important for the food we eat directly; it is vital for the foraging crops, such as field beans and clover, which are used to feed the livestock we depend on for meat. Between 2007-2010, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported a 33% average honey bee loss in each year.

The national concern for declining bee populations has been reflected in federal government legislation and actions. On January 11, 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) published the final rule to list the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis) as an “endangered” species under the federal Endangered Species Act. The listing became effective on March 21, 2017.

The Rusty-patched Bumble Bee was once widespread across the eastern and central United States, but today is known only from a small proportion of its historical range. Many of the remaining populations occur in the Twin Cities, Minnesota metropolitan area, including sites within Washington County (USFWS, 2017a), where the City of Afton is located.

For several years, Afton has been planning, and is now implementing, a sewage treatment project (more info at that will directly impact one of the last known habitats of the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee.

According to an assessment commissioned by Citizens for Valley Creek from Wildlife Research Consulting Services, LLC, Certified Wildlife Biologist Christopher E. Smith reports that:

“Recent observations of the bee come from residential gardens, city and county parks, and large conservation lands. The nearest verified recent occurrence for the bee comes from approximately 1.30 miles to the north of the proposed site, and was found in 2016 on Belwin Conservancy Property (E. Evans, personal communication).

Within its guidance, USFWS identifies areas that have a high potential for RPBB presence within suitable habitat (i.e., High Potential Zones). The proposed Afton Sewage Treatment System Site is located within one of these High Potential Zones (Figure 5).

My assessment of the site on April 1, 2017 identified the presence of loose soils, wild bergamot and other potential floral resources, and further analysis of the surrounding landscape found multiple MNDNR native plant communities and urban gardens in close proximity to the site.

As a result, my determination is that this site may be suitable habitat for the rusty-patched bumble bee, and I recommend an additional vegetation assessment during the growing season to better assess habitat suitability. I also recommend the City of Afton coordinate with the USFWS Twin Cities Field Office to determine if USFWS requests a bumble bee survey for this site following the USFWS Rusty-patched Bumble Bee Survey Protocol.”

In addition to the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee, the Valley Creek watershed is home to more than twenty already-endangered, threatened, and special concern species, including wolves, the Red-shouldered Hawk, Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Common Snapping Turtle, Blanding’s Turtle, Louisiana Waterthrush, Eastern Hognose Snake, Karner Blue Butterfly, and the American Brook Lamprey. Valley Creek itself is recognized as one of the best trout streams in the United States.

Citizens for Valley Creek asks that the City of Afton comply with all environmental regulations and laws, while proceeding with the sewage project.

It has been noted in previous calls for action* that the inevitability of the sewage plant failing has been confirmed by the Minneapolis Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), in a briefing to the Governor of Minnesota, in which it reported 84 similarly-designed plants failed during the June 2014 heavy rains in Minnesota.

The aftermath of sewage spills makes water undrinkable, unfishable, and unswimmable for years. Nearby crops and animals are also threatened. Valley Creek feeds into the St. Croix river, raising the specter of the pollution of one of the cleanest rivers in the United States. Alternatives exist. Afton must explore them.


*Available at


Jim Golden, Citizens for Valley Creek, (651) 295-5111