Rare Beetle Keeps Protected Status

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Citing new information, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reversed itself by withdrawing a 2012 proposal to delist the valley elderberry longhorn beetle from protected status. The withdrawal means the embattled beetle will retain its listing as a threatened species and its protections under the Endangered Species Act.
     Two environmental groups had challenged the delisting, based, in part, on their assertion that the agency relied on inaccurate facts presented by lobbyists for a real-estate developer.
     The beetle was listed as threatened in 1980. It is found in only a small area within California’s Central Valley region in association with its namesake host plant, elderberry.
     The proposal to delist the beetle was prompted by a 2010 petition from the Pacific Legal Foundation representing Reclamation District Number 108, a water use organization along the Sacramento River. After reviewing the information presented in the petition and the USFWS’ own five-year review of the species, the federal agency determined that the delisting was warranted.
     At that time, the available information indicated the beetle was found in 26 locations, up significantly from the three locations noted in the original listing documentation. The recovery appeared to be due in part to collaborative restoration efforts between the USFWS and its partners to plant more than 100,000 elderberry shrubs along the Sacramento River.
     However, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation challenged the proposed delisting, according to the CBD’s statement in response to the withdrawal.
     “Internal agency documents indicate the delisting proposal appears to have relied on factually inaccurate comment letters by lobbyists for a real-estate developer to change the 2006 five-year review recommendation from ‘no change’ to ‘delist.’ This was a politically based rather than science-based review,” the CBD said.
     The information regarding population occurances was largely based on exit holes in trees from emerging adults, but the agency decided the information was unreliable as another species of beetle makes “identical” exit holes, according to the action. “We acknowledge that there are no current estimates of population size or trends in population numbers for the valley elderberry longhorn beetle,” the agency said.
     The USFWS concluded that the beetle continues to be threatened by habitat loss, predators, pesticide use, and competition to its host plant from invasive species. The agency reviewed additional information from the public and peer review scientists in concluding that the beetle should retain its threatened status. The review did show that the beetle’s range is smaller than originally thought, so the beetle’s ESA protections will apply to a smaller area, according to the agency’s press release.
     “[The] decision reflects the value of a robust public comment and scientific peer review process in ensuring we base our actions on the best available scientific information,” USFWS Director Dan Ashe said. “It shows our commitment to fully consider critical review and comment before making a final decision.”
     The withdrawal is effective as of Sept. 17.

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