California landowners sue feds to delist beetle

Jon Katz and Joe Silveira/U.S. Fish and Wildlife A male valley elderberry longhorn beetle is shown feeding in this U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo from 2007.

Pacific Legal Foundation says agency has taken longer than allowed

By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI

Capital Press

A group of farmers and landowners in California is again suing the federal government over Endangered Species Act protection for a controversial insect.

The valley elderberry longhorn beetle's status as a threatened species complicates the maintenance of levees that protect farmland from flooding, according to the plaintiffs.

Scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended removing the beetle from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2006.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit property rights law firm, petitioned to delist the beetle in 2010 and sued on behalf of landowners when the agency didn't respond with a "90-day finding" in a timely manner.

In August 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the group's petition contained information that indicated delisting the beetle "may be warranted," prompting the agency to undertake further review.

That action mooted the first lawsuit but the plaintiffs have now filed another legal complaint against the agency, claiming it should have made a final decision within a year of receiving the original complaint.

The agency shouldn't be allowed to take an entire year to further review the beetle's listing status, as that would reward it for delaying the initial 90-day finding, said Damien Schiff, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

The decision to delist the beetle shouldn't be time-consuming, considering the agency's own scientists recommended that action, he said. "Our delisting petition was not handing the service anything new."

A draft version of the listing decision has been prepared but is still under review, said Robert Moler, spokesman for the agency.

The agency is required to complete the final review within 12 months of receiving the original petition, he said.

However, Moler objected to the Pacific Legal Foundation's claim that the agency is procrastinating.

"We've been working hard on it," he said. "It's a priority of ours to complete it."

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