American Burying Beetle

(Nicrophorus americanus)

(Photo’s credited to Stephanie Rainwater, American Burying Beetle biologist with SWCA Environmental Consultants, Inc.)

In 2015, the American Stewards of Liberty, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation (together, “Petitioners”) filed a petition to remove the ABB from the list of endangered species based on the original listing of the species being in error, which is one of three bases for species delisting under the ESA (the other two being recovery and extinction).  Since the filing of the delisting petition, the Service has failed to meet ESA deadlines in reaching a final decision regarding whether the delisting of the ABB is warranted, a decision that was due by August 8, 2016.  A summary of actions related to this delisting petition are provided below.

  • 8, 2015 – Petitioners filed petition to delist the ABB.
  • 20, 2016 – Petitioners sent a notice of intent to sue to the Service stating their intent to file suit based on the Service’s failure to reach a timely 90-day finding on the petition.
  • March 16, 2016 – The Service published a positive 90-day finding in the Federal Register based on its determination that the petitioned-for action may be warranted and initiated a status review of the ABB.
  • The Service’s status review of the species is presumably ongoing. The “12-month finding” (tolled from the date the petition was filed) was due by Aug. 8, 2016.
  • 22, 2017 – Petitioners sent second notice of intent to sue the Service based on its failure to meet this subsequent, 12-month deadline by which the agency was statutorily required to determine whether delisting of the ABB is warranted.
  • April 24, 2017 – Service noticed petitioners by letter that it anticipates it will not reach a 12-month finding until December 2017.
  • September 21, 2017 – Complaint filed for failure to meet the 12-month deadline by which the agency was statutorily required to determine whether delisting of the ABB is warranted.

The USFWS listed the American Burying beetle (ABB) N. americanus as an endangered species (i.e., a species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range) in 1989. We have demonstrated in our petition to delist the ABB that this original listing was in error, based on faulty assumptions about the species range, distribution and abundance.

In the agency’s final listing rule, the USFWS stated “once widely distributed throughout eastern North America, this species has disappeared from most of its former range.” Claims of a 90 percent reduction in the historic range of the species were the foundation of the USFWS’s decision to list N. americanus as endangered – yet scientifically defensible, range-wide studies of presence/absence or abundance have never been completed for this highly variable and eclectically distributed species. While anecdotal evidence of a historic decline in the range and distribution of N. americanus exists in the public record (likely related to the demise of the passenger pigeon and the expansion of modern agriculture around the turn of the 20th century, as postulated by Sikes and Raithel 2002), there is no evidence that N. americanus is currently in danger of extinction across all or a significant portion of its contemporary range.

Historic conditions are not relevant to current status determinations under the ESA – proper analysis of the five ESA listing factors must be based on present or threatened future conditions. In fact, the known contemporary range, distribution, and abundance of N. americanus is actually expanding, with robust populations being found across several states and in at least five different ecoregions. With the application of increased and more effective survey efforts, as well as the implementation of multiple captive breeding and reintroduction efforts, it is clear the species in not in danger of extinction.

Furthermore, at the time of listing, the USFWS was unable to identify any actual threats to current populations of N. americanus and more recent analyses of threats are based largely on speculation and assumption – not actual evidence of downward pressure on the current abundance or distribution of the species. Population and habitat viability modeling involving the USFWS and other experts also indicates that all naturally occurring wild populations of N. americanus are of sufficient size to be demographically viable for the foreseeable future.

In short, our petition request that the USFWS delist N. americanus from protection under the ESA, since the best available science does not support the existence of any threats significant enough to be driving N. americanus towards extinction in the foreseeable future.

The American burying beetle (“ABB”) is the largest of the carrion beetles found in North America and was listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) in 1989.


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