Attorney says levee districts should spend money on flood control, not habitat
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
A property rights group has convinced the federal government to consider lifting Endangered Species Act protections for a beetle native to California's Central Valley.
The valley elderberry longhorn beetle has been listed as a threatened species for more than 30 years -- despite findings by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists, who recommended five years ago that the species be delisted.
The Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit property rights law firm, claimed the beetle's status hindered the maintenance and improvement of levees, placing farmland and other properties at risk of flooding.
Levee districts have to spend thousands of dollars on mitigating negative effects to the elderberry, a riparian shrub the beetles rely on for habitat, said Brandon Middleton, an attorney for the group.
"We would argue those resources should be devoted to actual flood control," he said.
In 2006, a periodic agency review of the species concluded that habitat restoration and preservation efforts were paying off, with the conversion of wetlands in California diminishing since the beetle was listed in 1980.
Surveys indicate the beetle exists at roughly 190 locations in the Central Valley, up from fewer than 10 known locations at the time it was first listed, the review said.
The Pacific Legal Foundation petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the beetle in September 2010 and then filed a legal complaint against the agency earlier this year when it failed to respond to the request in a timely manner.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of levee districts, a land development company and a group of farmers, ranchers and other landowners in the area.
On Aug. 19, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would undertake a yearlong review of the species because the "petition presents substantial or commercial information that delisting the valley elderberry longhorn beetle may be warranted."
An agency official overseeing the process could not be reached for comment by Capital Press.
The agency's action may have rendered the Pacific Legal Foundation's complaint moot, said Middleton. "I think there's a decent chance we'll have to dismiss our lawsuit."
The group isn't surprised by the finding that delisting may be warranted, though it was taken aback by how long the process has dragged on, he said, adding that litigation is often needed to prompt the Fish and Wildlife Service to action.
The agency would be better off focusing its efforts on other species that actually need ESA protection, Middleton said. "It seems counterproductive for the service not to act upon their own recommendation."