The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has announced that the rusty patched bumble bee should now be considered endangered, marking the first time a bumble bee in the U.S. has ever received the declaration.

In a statement, FWS referred to the insect as "balancing precariously on the brink of extinction," noting that only two decades ago it was a common sight.

"Our top priority is to act quickly to prevent extinction of the rusty patched bumble bee," said FWS Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius. "Listing the bee as endangered will help us mobilize partners and focus resources on finding ways right now to stop the decline."

In decline since the latter 1990s, the FWS said the bumble bee's downfall – a plunge in population of 87 percent, according to the service – was due to a host of reasons, including habitat loss, disease, pesticide exposure and climate change.

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The bee once ranged across 22 states, from Connecticut to South Dakota, the District of Columbia and two Canadian province but now has a presence in 13 states and one province, according to the FWS.

Its remaining homes are in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada.

The bee pollinates a wide range of plants, including important crops such as tomatoes, peppers and cranberries.

"The rusty patched bumble bee is among a group of pollinators – including the monarch butterfly – experiencing serious declines across the country," Melius said. "Why is this important? Pollinators are small but mighty parts of the natural mechanism that sustains us and our world. Without them, our forests, parks, meadows and shrub lands, and the abundant, vibrant life they support, cannot survive, and our crops require laborious, costly pollination by hand."

The bee will officially gain protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act on February 10. The FWS encouraged citizens to help out by planting native flowers, limiting or avoiding use of pesticides, fostering natural landscapes, and leaving grass and garden plants uncut after summer (so overwintering bees will have suitable habitats).

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