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For Immediate Release, February 23, 2011

Contacts:  Megan Mueller, Center for Native Ecosystems, (303) 449-4571
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Scott Hoffman Black, Xerces Society, (503) 449-3792

Lawsuit Filed to Increase Habitat Protection for Nebraska's Vanishing Salt Creek Tiger Beetle

DENVER— The Center for Native Ecosystems, Center for Biological Diversity and Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for not protecting enough habitat to save the endangered Salt Creek tiger beetle in Nebraska. In April 2010, the Obama administration designated just 1,933 acres of critical habitat for the beetle, despite the fact that scientists determined that more than 36,000 acres were needed for the tiger beetle to recover.

“The unique Salt Creek tiger beetle needs protection of additional habitat if it is to have any chance at recovery,” said Megan Mueller, a biologist with the Center for Native Ecosystems. “Protecting the beetle will benefit a host of other wildlife and people by protecting wetlands and rivers in Nebraska.”  

The tiger beetle once occupied extensive areas of saline marshes and streams in Nebraska’s Lancaster and Saunders counties. Urban and agricultural sprawl have reduced it to just three populations on the edges of Little Salt Creek in Lincoln, Neb.

“This critical habitat designation directly contradicts Interior Secretary Salazar’s repeated promises to follow science in management of endangered species, and it should be reconsidered,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “There is no way to recover species like the Salt Creek tiger beetle without protecting the places they call home.”

In 2005, a team of agency and academic scientists assembled by the Fish and Wildlife Service identified more than 36,000 acres of critical habitat necessary for the recovery of the tiger beetle. At the request of officials in the regional and Washington, D.C., offices of the Service, this figure was later whittled down to 14,334 acres, which some team members deemed the bare minimum needed for the species to recover. The proposed area was reduced again, this time to 7,300 acres and eventually to the 1,933 acres that were finally designated. These reductions were engineered in the Bush era, but proposed and finalized by the Obama government. They all but ensure that the tiger beetle will not have enough habitat to recover.  

“With just a few hundred Salt Creek tiger beetles remaining, it is essential that the Fish and Wildlife Service set aside sufficient habitat to actually allow this rare species to recover,” said Sarina Jepsen, Xerces Society’s endangered species program director. “We hope that the Service will withdraw their critical habitat decision and consider the recommendations of scientists when they make their new decision.”

More than 90 percent of the endangered Salt Creek tiger beetle’s Nebraska salt-marsh habitat has been destroyed or severely degraded; there are estimated to be only a few hundred beetles remaining.

On Oct. 6, 2005, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Salt Creek tiger beetle as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Only three small populations of the beetle remain within a single drainage — Little Salt Creek — near Lincoln, Neb. The Salt Creek tiger beetle is one of the rarest insects in the world and occupies one of the most restricted ranges of any insect in the United States.

The Salt Creek tiger beetle is considered an indicator species. Its presence signals the existence of a healthy saline marsh; the groundwater feeding these wetlands pass through rock formations containing salts deposited by an ancient sea that once covered Nebraska. Over the past century, more than 230 species of birds have been reported to use eastern Nebraska saline marshes, including the least tern, piping plover and peregrine falcon. These saline wetlands are also home to several salt-adapted plants that are found nowhere else in Nebraska. In addition, a healthy saline marsh provides numerous benefits for people, including water purification and flood control, as well as an area for bird watching and other outdoor recreation.

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