By TIM HEARDEN
SACRAMENTO - As a result of lawsuits filed on farmers' behalf, the federal government has begun taking comments on a proposal to remove a controversial insect from its threatened-species list.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week opened a 60-day comment period on a plan to de-list the valley elderberry longhorn beetle, which farmers have argued impedes efforts to restore levees that protect their land from flooding.
The comment period comes after the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a series of legal actions to force the government to consider the de-listing in light of a 2006 analysis that found the beetle's population had recovered.
"We're certainly very happy," said Damien Schiff, the PLF's principal attorney. "Obviously this is a decision we thought all along was appropriate, and has really been the government's own position at least for the last six years."
The PLF sued Fish and Wildlife in April 2011 and again last March after the government missed a deadline to respond. The organization litigated on behalf of two levee management districts, Farm Bureaus in Butte, Yolo and Solano counties and the North Sacramento Land Co.
Fish and Wildlife will accept comment until Dec. 3, then a trio of independent experts will give opinions on de-listing, spokesman Robert Moler said. Final removal could take another year.
"Ultimately the service's goal is the recovery and conservation of the valley elderberry longhorn beetle," Moler said. "That's our highest priority in this process."
The beetle - Desmocerus californicus dimorphus - has been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1980. Levee districts have had to spend thousands of dollars on mitigating negative effects to the elderberry, a riparian shrub the beetles rely on for habitat.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will accept comments until Dec. 3. Comments can be submitted online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov (docket no. FWS-R8-ES-2011-0063) or by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-ES-2011-0063
Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM, Arlington, VA 22203.
Pacific Legal Foundation: www.pacificlegal.org
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: www.fws.gov