U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Listing Imperiled Tiger Beetle for Protection

Strikingly Marked Coral Pink Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle Threatened by Off-Road Vehicles, Drought, Climate Change

For immediate release: October 1, 2012

Taylor Jones, WildEarth Guardians: (303) 353-1490 or tjones@wildearthguardians.org
Heidi McIntosh, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance: (801) 428-3980 or heidi@suwa.org

Washington, DC – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today that it will propose to list the Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and to designate 2,276 acres of critical habitat for the species. The tiger beetle has been a candidate for listing for nearly 30 years.  The Service identified off-road vehicle (ORV) use, climate change, and drought as primary threats to the species.

Cicindela albissima—The Coral Pink Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle. Photo copyright Beetles in the Bush (http://beetlesinthebush.wordpress.com/).

“We commend the Service for recognizing and acting on the continuing threats to this rare insect,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “This gorgeous, fierce little creature is found in only one place on earth, and it deserves our respect and needs our protection.”

A portion of the tiger beetles’ habitat is located in a wilderness study area that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is required by law to protect, yet the agency has refused to halt damaging ORV use which puts the species at risk. Heidi McIntosh, associate director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said, “This important listing could at long last put an end to destructive ORV use in one of the most beautiful and unique landscapes in the state. BLM’s stubborn refusal to protect this remarkable species and its habitat made this listing proposal inevitable.”

The dunes the Coral Pink Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle inhabits cover 3,500 acres, of which 2,000 acres is within Coral Pink Sand Dunes (CPSD) State Park in Utah. The remaining 1,500 acres are on adjacent Bureau of Land Management land partly within the Moquith Mountain Wilderness Study Area. The tiger beetle occurs consistently in only two populations, which occupy a total area of only about 500 acres. The northern population may not be self-sustaining, instead relying on dispersal from the central population.

Although core areas of tiger beetle habitat have been closed to ORVs since 1997 (207 acres within CPSD State Park and 370 acres on BLM land), ORV use still occurs in 52 percent of occupied CPSD tiger beetle habitat in the central population in the State Park, as well as in the dispersal corridor between the two populations. For the small northern population, enforcement of protections on BLM land is minimal and relies mainly on voluntary compliance. ORVs, aside from crushing beetle larvae and adults, can damage vegetation, reducing the beetle’s prey base and drying out their habitats even further. During years when their population is small, the beetles concentrate in the protected area in CPSD State Park. In years when beetle numbers are exceptionally high, a greater percentage of them are found outside the conservation areas where they are vulnerable to harm from ORVs.

ORV use has a history of reducing or eliminating tiger beetle populations; victims have included Northeastern Beach tiger beetle populations in several locations, a portion of the White Beach tiger beetle population in Maryland, and the hairy-necked tiger beetle, Siuslaw hairy-necked tiger beetle, and St. Anthony Dune tiger beetle populations in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

Drought is also a major threat to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle; rainfall is one of the primary factors controlling the beetle’s population size, which tends to fluctuate dramatically from year to year. Drought sucks the moisture from the soil, reducing the size of the beetle’s already limited habitat as well as reducing the populations of their prey insects.  Climate change may exacerbate the impacts of drought in years to come.

The Service has proposed to designate 2,276 acres of dunes in CPSD State Park (767 ac) and on BLM land (1,508 ac) as critical habitat for the beetle. Species with designated critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as those without critical habitat.

The tiger beetle was petitioned for listing by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance in 1994. It is one of 252 candidate species covered in WildEarth Guardians’ settlement agreement with the Service, announced on May 10, 2011, and approved by a federal court on September 9, 2011. The agreement obligates the agency to either list or find “not warranted” for protection all 252 candidates by September 2016.

Moquith Mountain Wilderness Study Area. Photo copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.