For Immediate Release, May 5, 2014

Contact:  Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 522-3681
Sarina Jepsen, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, (971) 244-3727
Matthew Sandler, Rocky Mountain Wild, (303) 546-0214

Protection Slashed for Nebraska's Vanishing Salt Creek Tiger Beetle

Paltry Critical Habitat Designation Threatens One of World's Rarest Insects

DENVER— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today finalized designation of a mere 1,110 acres of critical habitat for the endangered Salt Creek tiger beetle in Nebraska’s Lancaster and Saunders counties. The decision stands in sharp contrast to a 2005 recommendation by scientists that 36,000 acres of habitat needed to be protected to ensure the recovery of the beetle, one of the rarest insects in the world.

Salt Creek tiger beetle
Photo by Seth Willey, USFWS. This photo is available for media use.

Conservationists have filed a series of lawsuits over the years to gain habitat protection for the beetle; today’s meager designation ensures that the legal battles will continue.

“It’s so disappointing that the Service is sacrificing the survival of a species to serve commercial interests when the science clearly shows that the unique Salt Creek tiger beetle needs more room to recover,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. 

The tiger beetle once occupied extensive areas of saline marshes and streams in the two Nebraska counties, but urban and agricultural sprawl have reduced it to just three populations on the edges of Little Salt Creek in Lincoln. The beetle has already lost 90 percent of its salt marsh habitat.

After scientists recommended that 36,000 acres be protected, in 2010 the Service designated just 1,933 acres of habitat for the beetle. The decision came in response to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, Rocky Mountain Wild and the Xerces Society that was intended to gain more habitat for the beetle.

“To save the beetle, we need to protect its home. 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 special species to recover,” said Sarina Jepsen, Xerces Society’s endangered species program director. “Conservation groups will continue to act to get the beetle the habitat it needs to survive.”

After a team of agency and academic scientists assembled by the Fish and Wildlife Service identified more than 36,000 acres of critical habitat necessary to recover the tiger beetle, the acreage was later slashed to 14,334 acres, which some team members deemed the bare minimum needed for the species’ survival. The proposed area was reduced again to 7,300 acres, then to a final designation of 1,933 acres in 2010. Those reductions were engineered under the Bush administration, but were finalized by the Obama administration. Today’s revision comes in response to a settlement of the 2010 lawsuit by the three conservation groups.

“Protecting more habitat for the beetle would save the species and would also benefit a host of other wildlife as well as people by protecting wetlands and rivers in Nebraska,” said Matthew Sandler, an attorney with Rocky Mountain Wild.  

More than 90 percent of the endangered Salt Creek tiger beetle’s Nebraska salt-marsh habitat has been destroyed or severely degraded, and there are estimated to be fewer than 400 beetles remaining.

When the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Salt Creek tiger beetle as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in October 2005, only three small populations remained 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 U.S. insect. It is a fast-moving, dark brown to green predacious beetle that is half an inch long. The tiger beetles live for two years, most of which is spent in larval form before the beetles undergo metamorphosis to live as adults for only a single summer. Females lay 50 eggs each summer, each in a separate burrow. Even the larvae are predators.

The Salt Creek tiger beetle is considered an indicator species whose presence signals the existence of a healthy saline marsh. The groundwater feeding these wetlands passes 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. Healthy saline marshes also provide numerous benefits for people, including water purification and flood control, as well as places for bird watching and other outdoor recreation.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs.

Rocky Mountain Wild ("RMW" - Formerly Center for Native Ecosystems) is a nonprofit environmental organization based in Denver, Colorado, that passionately defends native biological diversity. RMW works to save endangered species and preserve landscapes and critical ecosystems.

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