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The elderberry longhorn beetle: a new endangered species battle?

April 8, 2011 |  3:09 pm

Longhorn beetle A coalition of Central California farm bureaus, flood-control agencies and reclamation districts on Friday filed a lawsuit to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist an inch-long beetle that has saddled them with severe land-use restrictions and levee maintenance costs.

The lawsuit points out that the USFWS in 2006 found that the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle was no longer “threatened.” But the federal agency still has not removed it from the list of species fully protected under the Endangered Species Act.

“It’s time to free the beetle and the taxpayer,” said Damien Schiff, senior attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Sacramento on behalf of organizations including the Sacramento Valley Landowners Assn. and the Solano County Farm Bureau.

Pacific Legal Foundation's previous high-profile cases included litigation that forced removal of the bald eagle from the Endangered Species Act because the bird had fully recovered.

Desmocerus californicus dimorphus, which was listed as a threatened species in 1980, spends most of its life in the larval stage inside the stems of its common host plant, elderberry, which frequently grows along the region’s rivers and agricultural levee systems.

Federal guidelines require property owners to avoid harming the beetles by, among other things, building 100-foot buffer zones around bushes near construction and operations sites. Signs must be erected every 50 feet along the edges of such sites, with this warning: “This area is habitat of the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle, a threatened species, and must not be disturbed.”

“The issue here,” Schiff said, “is whether we are going to waste federal funds on a species that has already recovered and is threatening human health and safety –- and the regional economy –- by getting in the way of development and levee control maintenance.”

USFWS officials were unavailable for comment.

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-- Louis Sahagun

Photo: Valley elderberry longhorn beetle  Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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