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Lincoln Journal Star, February 24, 2011

Lawsuit filed in increase habitat protection for Salt Creek tiger beetle

he 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 Wednesday for not protecting enough habitat to save the endangered Salt Creek tiger beetle.

In April 2010, the federal agency designated 1,933 acres of critical habitat for the beetle, despite the fact that scientists determined more than 36,000 acres were needed for the insect's recovery.

"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, in a news release. "Protecting the beetle will benefit a host of other wildlife and people by protecting wetlands and rivers in Nebraska."

Bob Harms, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Grand Island, could not be reached for comment early Thursday morning.

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

"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 U.S. 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, the 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.

"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," she said.

The Service listed the Salt Creek tiger beetle as endangered in 2005.

The Salt Creek tiger beetle is considered one of the rarest insects in the world and occupies one of the most restricted ranges of any insect in the United States

More than 90 percent of the endangered Salt Creek tiger beetle's Nebraska salt-marsh habitat has been destroyed or severely degraded.

Researchers counted 205 Salt Creek tiger beetles last June.

© Copyright 2011, JournalStar.com

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton