Citizen-backed Effort to Delist American Burying Beetle Marches On

AUSTIN, TX – American Stewards of Liberty (ASL) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) have filed a Notice of Intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for violation of section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) based on USFWS’ failure to render a timely 12-month finding on an August 2015 petition filed with the Service. This scientifically-based effort is simple: delist the American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus)—the largest of carrion beetles (Coleoptera: Silphidae) in North America—because the species is not now and likely never was at risk of extinction.

In March 2016, as a preliminary response to the delisting petition, USFWS determined that the delisting of the Beetle may be warranted based on new information and analyses provided in the petition. Yet USFWS has failed to publish the requisite 12-month finding—which was due by August 2016—to announce its final determination of whether delisting is warranted based on the species’ current status and an erroneous original listing determination.

For several years now, the American Stewards of Liberty (ASL), the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), and the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) have been leading the charge to delist the American burying beetle.

In 1989, USFWS listed the Beetle as an endangered species (i.e., a species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range). In their August 2015 delisting petition, ASL, IPAA, and TPPF demonstrated that the original listing was in error and was rooted in faulty assumptions about the species’ range, distribution, and abundance.

According to USFWS, the species is believed to occur in ten states in several distinct geographical regions of the United States: Arkansas, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Texas.

Earlier claims of a ninety percent reduction in the historic range of the species were the foundation of USFWS’ decision to list the Beetle as endangered.

Yet, as current data reveals, the Beetle’s known range has expanded widely in recent decades. There is no evidence that the Beetle is currently in danger of extinction across all or even a significant portion of its range. The current range, distribution, and abundance of the Beetle is now known to be expanding due to increased survey efforts as well as implementation of successful captive breeding and reintroduction efforts.

In short, since the best available science does not support the existence of any threats significant enough to drive the Beetle towards extinction, the delisting petition requests that USFWS delist the Beetle and remove unnecessary and inappropriate regulation of the species under the Endangered Species Act.

Robust populations of the Beetle are now found in several states and in at least five different ecological regions. There has been a 100-fold expansion of the Beetle’s known range since it was first listed in 1989. And, in 2015 alone, there was a three percent expansion of its known range.

At the time of the original listing, USFWS was unable to identify any actual threats to populations of the Beetle, and more recent USFWS analyses of threats are based largely on speculation and assumption rather than actual evidence of downward pressure on the current abundance or distribution of the species. Population and habitat viability modeling conducted by USFWS and other experts also indicates that all naturally occurring wild populations of the Beetle are of sufficient size to be demographically viable for the foreseeable future.

As American Stewards of Liberty (ASL) Executive Director Margaret Byfield put it, “Keeping the American burying beetle on the endangered species list is not warranted under the listing criteria of the Endangered Species Act. More to the point, the 1989 listing of the Beetle was in error. These listing decisions are often made without adequate data. We have a robust scientific record that concludes delisting the American Burying Beetle is justified. The American Burying Beetle is not in any danger of going extinct today, or in the foreseeable future. However, landowners in numerous American communities continue to suffer undue harm because of this decades-old listing error by the federal government.”

No actual threats to the species have been substantiated with contemporary evidence of population declines. In fact, the Beetle is thriving in its natural habitat.

In the case of the Beetle, many land development, agriculture, transportation, and pipeline or utility operations have been delayed or restricted due to the presence of the Beetle. Over the last twenty years in the state of Oklahoma, the Beetle has cost at least $6.5 million in protection efforts, including $1.3 million that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation spent on conservation actions during a six-year period.

The erroneous listing of the Beetle has been responsible for delaying essential road and bridge projects and continues to cost taxpayers. The Beetle’s continued endangered listing has contributed to further complicating development of the Keystone XL Pipeline, specifically with regards to permitting and protection guidelines for the Beetle, as well as related lawsuits.

“Under the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, we believe the case for removing the American Burying Beetle is clearer than ever,” said Dan Naatz, Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Political Affairs. Naatz added, “USFWS has had the time to properly review and act on our petition. It is long past time that the Service meet its legal obligation to thoroughly evaluate this filing for delisting. Economic threats to the affected communities continue to cost private landowners, businesses, and local governments millions and American jobs are at stake—resolution of this filing is now long overdue.”

There is also the cost to small landowners and local governments. These entities are forced to face the same restrictions and regulatory delays that major industries face; however, small landowners and local governments rarely, if ever, have the same ability to absorb the demanding and costly burdens of erroneous listings.

For more information go to ABB Delisting.

Background Information on the Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 gave USFWS authority to administer the list of species protected by the ESA. Unfortunately, the federal government has not always been a good steward of that listing process.

USFWS sometimes relies upon incomplete data or questionable science to reach listing decisions that have long-term economic consequences for private landowners across the country. When an animal or plant species is placed on the list of endangered and threatened species, it can create costly regulatory burdens, both in terms of time and money. In the case of the listing of the American burying beetle, such listing is not only slowing down, but also making more expensive, critical infrastructure such as oil and gas production, pipelines, electric transmission, and county roads.

Every five years, according to the ESA, USFWS must conduct a status review of each listed species to determine whether maintenance of the species’ listing status is warranted and to determine, on the basis of this review, whether a given species should be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species or be reclassified between the endangered and threatened categories. The ESA criteria for whether a species merits listing as an endangered or threatened species apply equally in the context of listings and delistings.

About American Stewards of Liberty
American Stewards of Liberty (ASL) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to protecting private property that works closely with local governments and landowners across America, including: County Commissions, Conservation Districts, business owners, family farmers, ranchers, and homeowners who simply want to exercise the right to productively use their land. For more information, visit: www.americanstewards.us.

About the Independent Petroleum Association of America
The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) is a national upstream trade association representing thousands of independent oil and natural gas producers and service companies across the United States. Independent producers develop 90 percent of the nation’s oil and natural gas wells. These companies account for 54 percent of America’s oil production, 85 percent of its natural gas production, and support over 2.1 million American jobs. Learn more about IPAA by visiting www.ipaa.org and following @IPAAaccess on Twitter.

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