Office of External Affairs
Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Mountain-Prairie Region
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

December 12, 2007

Contacts:   Robert Harms 308-382-6468, extension 17
                 Barb Perkins 303-236-4588

 

PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD OPEN ON PROPOSED CRITICAL HABITAT FOR SALT CREEK TIGER BEETLE

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking for public comment on a proposal to designate 1,642 acres as critical habitat for the Salt Creek tiger beetle under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The proposed critical habitat is located in Lancaster and Saunders counties, Nebraska, in saline wetland and stream complexes found along Little Salt and Rock creeks.  Also available for comment is a draft economic analysis and a draft environmental assessment on the proposed critical habitat designation.

 

Considered one of the rarest insects in the United States, the Salt Creek tiger beetle was listed as endangered under the ESA in October 2005.  Loss of saline wetland and stream habitats and changes in watershed-level hydrology were the main causes for the decline of the beetle.  Since the late 1800s, more than 90 percent of the wetlands have been lost to development and modifications to hydrology. There are three populations of the beetle located along Little Salt Creek in Nebraska: the Arbor Lake, Roper, and Upper Little Salt Creek-North populations.  Annual surveys have not identified any new beetle populations, but did document the loss of three of the six known populations prior to the beetle being added to the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants.

 

The Arbor Lake population (167 acres of proposed critical habitat) occupies a saline wetland and stream complex.  It is the largest remaining beetle population, averaging 310 beetles per year (1991 to 2007 surveys).  The 2005 survey count was 115 beetles, the lowest count in the past 12 years.  The survey count in 2006 was 345 beetles; in 2007, survey count was 198 beetles.

 

The Roper population (284 acres of proposed critical habitat) occupies a saline wetland and stream complex located about one mile downstream of the Arbor Lake population.  It is the second largest population, averaging 107 beetles per year (1994 to 2007 surveys).  The 2005 survey count was 22 beetles; the lowest number since monitoring began.  The survey count in 2006 was 97 beetles; in 2007, the survey count was 32 beetles.

 

The Upper Little Salt Creek-North population (295 acres of proposed critical habitat) exists on a saline wetland and stream complex about 4.5 miles upstream of the Arbor Lake population.  It is the smallest population, averaging 18 beetles per year (1991 to 2007 surveys).  The 2005 survey documented 16 beetles.  The 2006 survey count was 24 beetles; in 2007, the survey count was 33.

 

In addition to the locations listed above, 896 acres in the Jack Sinn-Rock Creek area have been identified as essential to the conservation of the beetle and are included in the proposed critical habitat area.  This acreage encompasses a large area of suitable saline wetland and stream (Rock Creek) habitat in a separate watershed from the currently-occupied units (Little Salt Creek).  This unoccupied habitat represents the best remaining suitable habitat to support additional populations of the beetle and provide redundancy in the event a catastrophic event occurs along Little Salt Creek.  Nearly 90 percent of all remaining individuals are located within one mile of each other.  A catastrophic weather event or upstream human activities could extirpate all of the populations if they were located only in a small portion of a single stream system.  Survey information documented occupation of the Jack Sinn-Rock Creek Unit by the beetles as recently as 1998.

 

State and local community groups are working with the Service to protect the beetle and its habitat.  The Saline Wetlands Conservation Partnership, which is composed of numerous conservation organizations, has purchased 221 acres of saline wetlands over the last three years, protecting this scarce habitat upon which the Salt Creek tiger beetle depends.

 

The Service is seeking comments and information from the public on all aspects of the critical habitat proposal, including the draft Economic Analysis and draft Environmental Assessment.  Potential post-designation economic costs are estimated to be $18.6 million to $23.1 million over 20 years.  The annual costs are expected to range from $1.3 to $2 million.

 

Critical habitat is a term in the ESA. It identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management or protection.  Areas designated as critical habitat often receive greater conservation emphasis through increased management actions and funding geared towards recovery of the species.  The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands.  Federal agencies are required to consult with the Service on actions they carry out, fund or authorize that might affect critical habitat.

 

Comments and information from interested parties will be accepted until February 11, 2007, and may be sent to the Field Supervisor, Nebraska Ecological Services Field Office, Federal Building, Second Floor, 203 West Second Street, Grand Island, NE 68801.  Comments may also be sent by e-mail to fw6_sctbeetle@fws.gov and by fax to 308-384-8835.

 

The Salt Creek tiger beetle is considered a “bio-indicator” species.  Its presence signals the existence of a healthy saline wetland and stream system. Intact, these systems provide numerous benefits for people as well as wildlife, including water purification, flood control, and outdoor recreation opportunities. The beetle is metallic brown to dark-olive green with a metallic dark green underside.  It measures about 0.5-inch in total length, and is native to eastern Nebraska’s saline wetlands.

 

Tiger beetles are active, ground-dwelling, predatory insects that capture smaller or similar-sized arthropods in a “tiger-like” manner, grasping prey with their mandibles or mouthparts. Because of their interesting behavior and variety of forms and habitats, tiger beetles as a group have been extensively studied.

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 97-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 548 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

 

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