Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 16, 2014

Contact: Jeff Miller, (510) 499-9185

Rare California Beetle Will Retain Endangered Species Protections

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— After a critical review by an independent scientific panel and opposition by the Center for Biological Diversity and Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today it is withdrawing a proposal to remove Endangered Species Act protections from Valley elderberry longhorn beetles. The beetles, which depend on scarce mature elderberry plants along California’s Central Valley rivers, will remain classified, and protected, as a threatened species.

“We're grateful to see the Fish and Wildlife Service following the science and making the right decision to continue protections for this clearly imperiled beetle and its vanishing habitat,” said the Center’s Jeff Miller. “This is exactly how the process of peer review is supposed to work.”

The Valley elderberry longhorn beetle was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1980. The beetles are dependent on elderberry host plants and are imperiled by clearing of riparian forests for agriculture and urban development, grazing along streams, invasive predators and pesticide use. In 2010 the anti-conservation group Pacific Legal Foundation petitioned for delisting of the beetle, and in 2012 the Service published a proposed rule to remove federal protections for the beetle and submitted the proposal to scientific peer review by a panel of experts on the beetle and Central Valley ecosystems. 

In 2013 the peer review panel completed its evaluation and concluded that the proposal to remove protections for the beetle was not based on best science and that the beetle continues to face many threats. In today's withdrawal of the proposal, the Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that the “species distribution information in the proposed rule was incorrectly presented,” and that “the best scientific and commercial data available indicate that the threats to the species and its habitat have not been reduced to the point where the species no longer meets the statutory definition of an endangered or threatened species.”

When the elderberry beetle was listed as a threatened species in 1980 it was only known to occur from 10 records at three locations in Merced, Sacramento and Yolo counties. A 2006 status review by the Service claimed that additional locations and populations had been discovered that expanded the beetle’s known range throughout much of the Central Valley. Based on these supposed new populations and plantings of the beetle’s host elderberry plant as part of mitigation and restoration efforts, the Service proposed removing the beetle from the protected list.

Internal agency documents indicate the delisting proposal appears to have relied on factually inaccurate comment letters by lobbyists for a real-estate developer to change the 2006 five-year review recommendation from “no change” to “delist.” This was a politically based rather than science-based review. Internal discussions among Service staff most familiar with the species indicate the agency's biologists concluded delisting was not warranted.

The 2013 peer review disputed the contention that 26 locations currently host the elderberry beetle, noting this optimistic assumption was based on old and unreliable records. Many alleged records rely on sightings of beetle exit holes from trees rather than actual beetle sightings, and many “sightings” likely misidentify the species of beetle. Many supposed records based on exit holes were actually of a more common species, the relatively abundant California elderberry longhorn beetle. Eight of the alleged new locations have no evidence of any beetle activity in at least 15 years.

Peer reviewers stated that the alleged increase in number of beetle locations was largely a function of the Service arbitrarily changing the definition of what constitutes a “location.” Multiple clustered occurrences of beetle exit holes were claimed as discrete “locations” so that the population would seem more widespread.

The delisting proposal pointed to supposed new elderberry beetle habitat created by planting of elderberries at mitigation and restoration sites, yet there is little to no data on habitat quality or evidence of beetle use at these sites.

The Service has now acknowledged increasing predatory threats to elderberry beetles such as the invasive Argentine ant and European earwig, which are becoming widespread and disruptive to beetle populations, as well as the impacts of invasive plants and the harmful effects of climate change on elderberry beetle habitat.

The peer review provided evidence that elderberry beetle host plants have stopped reproducing along dammed rivers, such as along much of the Sacramento River below Shasta Dam, and chronicled declines of elderberry beetles in the northern Central Valley and a lack of recent records in the southern Central Valley.

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.

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