January 4, 2012

One step forward, two steps back for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By One step forward, two steps back for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The story of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the valley elderberry longhorn beetle is a frustrating one, demonstrating the absurd realities of federal environmental regulation and putting to rest the notion that the Endangered Species Act is a flawless statute.

The valley elderberry longhorn beetle should be an ESA success story.  In 1980, the Service designated the beetle as a threatened species.  Fortunately, in September 2006, staff biologists at the Service found that the beetle had recovered and recommended that the species be taken off of the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

But here we are more than five years later, and nothing has changed.  The valley elderberry longhorn beetle remains improperly classified as a threatened species, even though science says it has recovered, and despite the significant costs the beetle’s outdated regulatory status poses for landowners and American taxpayers.  The Service’s stalling likewise comes at the cost of public safety, as flood control districts and important infrastructure projects are hampered by the agency’s refusal to delist the beetle.

The Service has suggested several times that implementation of its 2006 delisting recommendation is just around the corner, but these have been nothing more than empty promises that have damaged the Service’s credibility.

Admittedly, the Service made some progress recently when–thanks to the pressure of PLF litigation–it formally recognized that delisting may be warranted and indicated that it was in the process of making a final determination.  Because PLF had filed a petition to delist the valley elderberry longhorn beetle in September 2010, that final determination (known as a 12-month finding) was due under the law in September 2011.

Of course, that time has come and gone, and the Service’s 12-month finding has yet to be issued.  The agency’s inexcusable delay can no longer be tolerated, and so today we notified the Service that it will be sued by PLF if the 12-month finding is not made in the next 60 days.

PLF’s 60-day notice was filed on behalf of several California Central Valley landowners and flood control districts that have spent substantial time and money on unnecessary ESA beetle regulations.  These costs are nonsensical and should and must end, else the Service will be forced to explain itself to a federal court later this year.

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