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County no longer in elderberry beetle habitat range

Sep 22, 2014
In The News

No one is ready to stop watering the score of elderberry bushes the city has planted at its elderberry mitigation site, but on Tuesday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that Tulare, Kern and Kings counties are no longer in the habitat range of the Valley Longhorn Elderberry Beetle.

The beetle is a threatened species and because of that the city has had to take mitigating measures any time an elderberry bush is destroyed. City manager John Lollis said the city has spent more than a million dollars over the last decade on its mitigation project off of Highway 190 east of town.

U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy said the action by the federal agency means an end to the measures cities have had to take, but Lollis said he is not ready to pull the plug on the mitigation project or any other actions the city has taken regarding the bush and the beetle.

“Today’s decision provides needed relief to our local communities that have been forced to expend precious resources to protect a species that is not even located in our region. With the removal of Elderberry Beetle regulatory mandates from our local area, our communities can continue to focus on creating jobs rather than endure unnecessary and onerous environmental regulations,” said McCarthy, the majority leader in the House of Representatives.

While the three counties were removed from the habitat, the FWS said it was withdrawing its proposal to delist the elderberry beetle as a threatened species.

“It is unfortunate that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has withdrawn its own proposal to delist the Valley Longhorn Elderberry Beetle as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act,” commented McCarthy. “I strongly encourage the Fish and Wildlife Service not to withdraw this proposal and to reopen the public comment period so that constituents from other areas affected can provide the most up-to-date facts that show this species has recovered.”

The bush and the beetle that thrives on it has been a roadblock to countless projects over the years. The city had to do a study on how it will mitigate any loss of elderberry bushes with its project to widen the Jaye Street bridge.

Lollis said the city has agreed to plant 60 new bushes, at a cost of $5,000 a bush.

He said he has been in contact with McCarthy’s office and is hopeful some guidelines will be forthcoming from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“I think it’s going to take some time to work with Fish and Wildlife,” he said, adding, “I’m not ready to torch the preserve.”

He did say it appears the news for any projects proposed from now moving forward, but is skeptical it will have any impact on existing projects, such as the Jaye Street bridge.

The Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle was listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1980. In 2006, a five-year species review recommended delisting the beetle and in 2010 a petition was field to remove any beetle critical habitat designations.

The effort to delist the beetle continued until this latest announcement.

On June 10 of this year McCarthy, California State Senator Jean Fuller and California Assemblywoman Connie Conway sent a letter to FWS Director Daniel Ashe calling on the Service to act on its own recommendation by finalizing its proposal to delist the Elderberry Beetle as a threatened species. Also, McCarthy secured language in the Fiscal Year 2015 Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Appropriations Act (H.R. 5171) that would prevent FWS from withdrawing its proposal to delist the Elderberry Beetle and encourages them to delist this species. The legislation is pending.

Just last month the city agreed to a $108,000 three-year contract for Sequoia Riverlands Trust to manage the 7-acre mitigation site.

The beetle is a medium-sized, red and dark green insect that is one-half to one-inch long with arching long antennae. It is found only in the Central Valley and depends solely on elderberry shrubs (Sambucus) for food and shelter.