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Protections for beetle put at risk

By JOSH FUNK Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An environmental group says it plans to sue the U.S. government over a decision to reclassify a large scavenging beetle as threatened instead of endangered.

The Center for Biological Diversity, based in Arizona, said Tuesday it plans to sue over last fall's move to list the American burying beetle as threatened. (Merrily Cassidy/Cape Cod Times via AP, File)

The Center for Biological Diversity said it will sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services over its move last fall to list the American burying beetle as threatened. It had been considered an endangered species since 1989, and the location of its habitat in Plains states created issues for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other oil and gas projects.

“Far from having recovered, this striking orange-and-black beetle is facing dire threats from climate change and habitat destruction,” said attorney Kristine Akland with the center. Akland said the rule change was a result of pressure from the oil and gas industry.

Federal officials have said that conservation efforts over the past three decades have helped the beetle’s population recover, and it can now be found in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota and on Nantucket Island off the coast of Massachusetts. At the time the beetle was termed endangered, it was found only in small populations in eastern Oklahoma and Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island.

Fish and Wildlife Services spokeswoman Lesli Gray said the agency “used the best available science in its decision to downlist the American burying beetle.” She would not comment about the threatened lawsuit.

The agency has acknowledged that the beetle continues to face threats from climate change and land use changes, but officials have said the beetle no longer meets the definition of endangered.

Over the years, the oil and gas industry has borne significant costs to protect the beetle and other endangered species. The large, black, nocturnal beetle has hardened protective wing covers marked by two scalloped shaped orange patterns. The beetles are scavengers that eat decaying animals. They lay their eggs beside a small carcass that they bury, then feed their larvae from that carcass.