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Plan to Remove Endangered Species Protections for Rare California Beetle
SACRAMENTO— The Center for Biological Diversity and Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation today urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to halt plans to take away Endangered Species Act protections for the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle, which is dependent upon scarce mature elderberry plants along California’s Central Valley rivers.
“Removing protections for an imperiled beetle and its vanishing habitat before the species is actually recovered is not what the Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to do,” said the Center’s Jeff Miller. “The agency’s own scientific peer review casts serious doubt on claims that numerous additional populations of the beetle have been found. This plan to take Endangered Species Act protections away from the elderberry beetle is driven purely by politics and not at all by science.”
The Wildlife Service had an independent scientific peer review panel, composed of experts on the beetle and Central Valley ecosystems, evaluate the proposed rule; these reviewers concluded that the scientific foundation of the proposed rule is unsound because the Service’s conclusions are based on faulty data, unsupported assumptions, misinterpreted information, and cherry-picked science, and tend to dismiss evidence that does not support delisting.
The Valley elderberry longhorn beetle (Desmocerus californicus dimorphus) was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1980. At that time the species was known to occur from only 10 records at 3 locations in Merced, Sacramento and Yolo counties. The beetles are dependent on elderberry host plants and are imperiled because of clearing of riparian forests for agriculture and urban development, grazing along streams, invasive predators and pesticide use.
The peer reviewers disputed the Service’s contention that 26 locations currently host the elderberry beetle, noting that the bases for this optimistic assumption are old and unreliable records. Many alleged records rely on sightings of exit holes from trees rather than actual beetle sightings; many sightings very likely misidentify the species of beetle. Supposed records based on exit holes often turn out to be a more common beetle species, the relatively abundant California elderberry longhorn beetle. Reviewers noted that 8 of the alleged locations have no evidence of any beetle activity in at least 15 years.
“There’s just not sufficient information, and no valid population data, to move forward with delisting the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle,” said Miller. “Delisting criteria, including how many populations are needed for recovery, have never been developed. Objectives that were established by a 1984 recovery plan have not been met.”
Significantly, peer reviewers state that the alleged increase in number of beetle locations is largely a function of the Service arbitrarily changing the definition of what constitutes a “location.” Multiple clustered occurrences of beetle exit holes were claimed as discrete “locations” so that the population would seem more widespread.
The delisting proposal pointed to supposed new elderberry beetle habitat created by planting of elderberries at mitigation and restoration sites, yet there is little to no data on habitat quality or evidence of beetle use at these sites. The Service minimized or dismissed increasing predatory threats to elderberry beetles such as the invasive Argentine ant and European earwig, which are becoming widespread and disruptive to beetle populations. The Service ignored evidence that elderberry beetle host plants have stopped reproducing along dammed rivers, such as along much of the Sacramento River below Shasta Dam; it failed to acknowledge declines of elderberry beetles in the northern Central Valley and a lack of recent records in the southern Central Valley and improperly dismissed the harmful effects of climate change.
A 2006 status review of the elderberry beetle by the Service claimed that additional locations and populations had been discovered that expanded the beetle’s known range throughout much of the Central Valley. Based on these supposed new populations and plantings of the beetle’s host elderberry plant as part of mitigation and restoration efforts, the Service proposed removing the beetle from the protected list.
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. Internal discussions among Service staff most familiar with the species indicate that Wildlife Service biologists concluded that delisting was not warranted.
In 2010 the anti-conservation group Pacific Legal Foundation petitioned for delisting of the elderberry beetle. The Service concluded that delisting may be warranted and initiated a status review; in 2012 it published a proposed rule to remove federal protections for the beetle. A scientific peer review highly critical of the science and assumptions in the proposal was published in 2013. The Service has not yet published a final rule to delist the species.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat.