When conservation photographer Clay Bolt set off on a mission to photograph North America's thousands of bee species, he came across a particular bumble bee species that should have been easy to find. Yet Bolt just couldn't seem to track one down. That species became Bolt's "white whale."

Once common from the Upper Midwest to the East Coast, the population of rusty patched bumble bees has declined precipitously, disappearing from 87 percent of its range. The story of this bumble bee species is representative of the many species of pollinators across the continent that are struggling to survive amid a barrage of pesticides, disease, habitat decline, native plant decline and climate change. But as Bolt follows the speces' trail to Madison, Wisconsin, where he nets his first rusty patched bumble bee, there is an undeniable thread of hope.

"Seeing my first rusty patched bumble bee in the wild was a life-changing experience," says Clay Bolt. "Here was a species that was common not so long ago, living out its life as its ancestors have done for thousands of years. It had no idea that its fate, and the fate of its lineage, was in our hands. At that moment, I knew that I would do everything in my power to encourage others to make life possible for this species."

Bolt has since begun a mission to have the rusty patched bumble bee added to the endangered species list. It would be the first North American bumble bee species to ever be listed, and it would provide new protections for the species that could help the survival of not only rusty patched bumble bees but other pollinators as well.

Through Bolt's adventure searching for the rusty patched bumble bee, viewers of this short film learn what is at stake if we continue to allow pollinators to decline and gain an undeniable sense of hope at what can be done to improve their chances of dodging extinction. Their disappearance is nothing short of life-threatening for us. Thankfully, it's not too late to do something about it.

"This film tells the story of a once common bee that has undergone a dramatic decline and may now be headed to extinction," said Rich Hatfield, Senior Conservation Biologist at the Xerces Society. "We need to protect the rusty patched bumble bee and the whole suite of native, wild bees; our food security very well may depend on it."

Visit the film's website for more information about helping this species, including including a petition to put the rusty patched bumble bee on the endangered species list.

The rusty patched bumble bee could be the first North American bumble bee species added to the Endangered Species List. The rusty patched bumble bee could be the first North American bumble bee species added to the Endangered Species List. (Photo: Clay Bolt)

Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.