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Wildlife Service considering delisting elderberry
Officials hopeful on action
City of Porterville officials are cautiously hopeful the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will delist the valley elderberry longhorn beetle (Desmocerus californicus dimorphus) from its current status as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Last month, the Service announced a 60-day public comment period on the proposal.
“We encourage the public, government agencies, tribes, private industry and non-profit organizations to provide us with information on the status of the VELB,” said Susan K. Moore, field supervisor for the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office. “We want our decisions on the VELB’s status to be informed by the best available information.”
The elderberry tree, which is common along Porterville’s ditches, creeks, rivers, and foothills, is habitat for the beetle that has been protected since 1980.
As a way to mitigate projects in Porterville, the city in 2008 created a safe haven for the insect’s habitat — a mitigation site, which requires the maintenance and monitoring of 58 elderberry trees.
Over the past decade the city has spent an excess of $500,000 on the site along the Tule River off of Highway 190 just west Avenue 274.
City Manager John Lollis said any action to delist the bush would be welcomed by the city.
“Though it won’t assist with several current City projects (Jaye Street bridge widening, new animal shelter construction, etc), the possibility of not having to provide VELB mitigation will greatly benefit future projects,” said Lollis, among those the Westwood Street bridge widening and the new Hillcrest Street bridge.
Elderberry bushes have been a thorn to the city and developers as projects have been delayed or blocked by the bushes. Several elderberry bushes are in the path of a large development on West Henderson near Newcomb Street.
The beetle’s status was challenged last year in federal court by a group of landowners, among them three Farm Bureaus, who say the beetle remains on the endangered species list despite findings by the FWS that indicate its population has recovered.
The lawsuit, filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation on April 8, 2011, seeks to force the federal government to remove the beetle from the list, claiming that since the FWS’ five-year Status Review, defendants have had ample time to begin the delisting process, but have failed to do so.
The Service requests comments concerning any location-specific information about the VELB or its habitat. All submitted comments will be posted online at http://www.regulations.gov.
The VELB is a medium-sized, red and dark green insect that is one-half to one-inch long with arching long antennae. The VELB is found only in California’s Central Valley and depends solely on elderberry shrubs (Sambucus) for food and shelter.
The VELB was listed as a threatened species under the ESA in 1980 due to inadequate regulatory protection and loss of its habitat from agricultural and urban development largely attributed to flood control activities. More than 90 percent of the Central Valley’s original riparian vegetation (of which elderberry is a component at some locations) had been lost. At the time of listing, the VELB was known from only 10 occurrences at three locations along the American River, Putah Creek, and the Merced River.
Since then, surveys have identified approximately 201 occurrences at 26 locations that support the beetle ranging from Shasta County to Kern County. The rate of riparian vegetation loss has been greatly reduced compared to the rate at the time of listing and records over the past 30 years establish that the VELB’s range is larger than originally known. Several recovery efforts have led to the protection and restoration of riparian vegetation and VELB habitat.
The Service will accept comments until Dec. 3.