Conservation Org. Challenges FWS Decision to Downlist Beetle from Endangered to Threatened

On Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity challenged a decision by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and its acting director that reclassified the American burying beetle from “endangered” to “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The complaint claimed that the demotion eliminates key protections for the species, which still faces the same threats that led to its listing in 1989, and is even more imperiled now due to climate change.

According to the Center, the beetle was once found in 35 eastern U.S. states and three Canadian provinces until the early-to-mid-20th century, when the species reportedly disappeared from more than 90% of its range. The complaint claimed that the species’ drastic decline led to its placement on the endangered species list.

With protection, the beetle has recovered and established additional populations, the Center explained. However, its main threats, habitat loss, fragmentation and reduced carrion resources, have not dissipated, the plaintiff cautioned.

Allegedly, in 2015, the Independent Petroleum Association of America petitioned to de-list the beetle, citing delays and restrictions affecting the oil and gas industry due to the species’ presence. The Center claimed that in response, the FWS proposed downlisting the species while “implicitly acknowledg(ing) that the species remained at risk,” over scientists’ opposition to what they perceived as a premature decision.

Now, the Center takes issue with the FWS’s conclusion that the beetle’s primary threats are “relatively minor.” Allegedly, the determination represents an untenable about-face from the FWS’s prior position, based “on the speculation that additional suitable habitat may become available.”

The complaint brought two claims for relief under the ESA and one under the Administrative Procedure Act for the FWS’s alleged failure to properly consider the evidence before it in downlisting the species. The Center asks that the court reinstate the beetle’s endangered status, among other requests.

Another lawsuit filed a day earlier by the Center and two other organizations took aim at an FWS decision not to designate a critical habitat for the endangered rusty patched bumble bee. That complaint, also filed in the District of Columbia, alleged that the FWS neglected its statutory duty to designate areas necessary for the species’ survival and recovery.

In the beetle action, the Center for Biological Diversity is represented by its own counsel.