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Fall 2011

Delisting Long Overdue

There are many examples across the nations of how the stringent regulations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have been used by environmental activists to stop infrastructure projects, cut off water to millions and derail development projects.  In the Central Valley of California, the valley elderberry longhorn beetle (velb), which was listed as threatened under the ESA in 1980, has halted levee repairs throughout the valley and cost taxpayers millions to protect.

The 1997 levee failure on the Feather River that claimed the lives of three people and caused the evacuation of 32,000 people was due to levee deficiencies that had been delayed for many years due to ESA restrictions to protect the beetle.  When the ESA was passed in the 1970’s, no one expected loss of human life to protect a species, but this is just one example of the powerful grip the ESA

Over five years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the velb should be delisted under the ESA, but it took Pacific Legal Foundation, representing property owners and flood control districts, to compel the Service to continue the delisting process. 

When the Service completed its 5-year review of the velb, it determined that the species may be eligible for delisting.  In 1980 it was determined that 90-percent of the habitat for the velb had been lost, but after the 5-year review nearly 200 occurrences of the beetle in 25 locations ranging from Shasta County to Kern County had been confirmed and the riparian habitat loss had been greatly reduced.

The California Resource Agency estimates a cost of $80,000 per elderberry bush for protection of the velb under the ESA.  The ESA includes mechanisms for delisting of a species as well as listing.  Unfortunately, property owners and flood control districts with the help of Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) had to force the Service to continue the delisting process that they determined necessary in 2006.

A settlement of the lawsuit has resulted in the Service opening a 60-day comment period to consider delisting the velb.   The comment period closed on October 18th.  “We are looking to the public, agencies and non-profit organizations to provide us with more information on the status of the species”, said Susan Moore, Field Supervisor for the Service.

While the Service did indicate that delisting is a probable next step for the beetle.  All protections for the beetle remain in place until the delisting process has been completed.  Since the 5-year review was competed in 2006, flood control districts have still been forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect a species that may have all ready fully recovered.  Taxpayers are owed some relief from regulatory burden.  As California creates the new flood protection plan the determination of the delisting of the beetle is of critical importance to assuring that flood projects are completed.

As residents of the Central Valley this case is of critical importance to the safety of communities.  Protecting the velb could make some flood control projects cost prohibitive. Assuring that public safety is the highest priority of our flood managers will remain a goal of Family Water Alliance.  While our flood control system provides many benefits nothing outweighs the importance of protecting the life and property behind our levee system.

Thanks to the PLF, these first steps in the delisting of the velb have finally begun.  Family Water Alliance will continue to pursue delisting of the species to assure our flood control system maintenance remain a top priority of California’s flood control agencies. ■


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