FWS Sued for Not Delisting Recovered Beetle

Published April 2, 2012

A group of California property owners and a public policy organization have filed a lawsuit to force the federal government to remove a beetle from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list.

Six Years and Counting

Six years ago, FWS determined the valley elderberry longhorn beetle had recovered from its “threatened” status. Nevertheless, the agency has yet to officially change the beetle’s status, so the land-use restrictions and other limitations on property rights remain. 

Sacramento-area property owners and the Pacific Legal Foundation have filed a lawsuit in federal district court demanding FWS comply with its own findings and delist the beetle. FWS defends the continued listing of the beetle, saying it must undertake important procedural steps before making an official decision to delist it.

“We are working, and have been working, on a draft 12-month finding … on whether to delist the species or not,” said Sarah Swenty, a media contact with the Fish and Wildlife office in Sacramento. “It’s currently being reviewed by the regional office, … and it goes to the D.C. office soon.”

From there, she said, the draft proposal will go before the public for a set comment period.
“We have no specific date for publishing the rule,” Swenty said. “But we are working on the recovery of the species.”

End of Group’s Patience

It’s too little, too late, however, for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting for property rights. The group has sued on behalf of landowners, businesses, and farmers, saying FWS has dragged its feet on the rule for far too long.

“In 1980, the beetle was listed as a threatened species. [The listing] imposed several regulatory concerns for folks in California, mainly private property restrictions but also increased flood control costs,” said Brandon Middleton, the Pacific Legal Foundation attorney who filed the lawsuit.

By 2006, the Fish and Wildlife Service had recognized the beetle had recovered, Middleton said.

“But even though we have that, here we are; the beetle is still listed,” he said. “There’s no excuse for Fish and Wildlife to fail to delist this species.”

The lengthy delays on the part of FWS indicate the agency is not concerned so much with species protection, Middleton said, but rather with retaining power. 

Real People Suffering Harm

In the meantime, said Middleton, plenty of residents have suffered.

“One client, he’s the president of North Sacramento Land Company. He has property he’d like to develop and create a business park out of. But his land is classified as critical habitat for the beetle,” Middleton said. “He can’t do anything with the property until it’s delisted.”

With the continuing development restrictions on the land, Middleton added, homeless people have taken over the park, causing his client ongoing clean-up expenses.

“On one hand, he can’t develop his commercial property,” said Middleton. “On the other, he has incurred substantial expense to take care of this property.”

Cheryl Chumley, [email protected], writes from northern Virginia.