FAIRFIELD — A rare beetle found in Solano County and nearby counties that spends much of its life feeding on pith inside elderberry shrubs might get removed from the federal Endangered Species Act list.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed stripping the valley elderberry longhorn beetle of its “threatened” status. The agency is accepting public comments through Feb. 22.
These beetles are red and dark green and are found in the Central Valley, as far west as Green Valley in and near Fairfield. They bore into elderberry shrubs and emerge in the spring to mate.
Because of the beetle’s Endangered Species Act protections, potential conflicts can arise between development and preserving beetle habitat.
An elderberry shrub stands on the Dunnell property in Rolling Hills targeted to become a 6.2-acre city park. Since the beetle retains its Endangered Species Act status for now, the city has had to come up with a strategy for dealing with the shrub.
“We have to avoid that area with the park improvements and let it be,” Community Development Director Erin Beavers said.
In fact, that’s been Fairfield’s strategy in general when it comes to development in potential beetle habitat.
“Most of the time, we’re avoiding it,” Beavers said.
But sometimes, the city has instead dealt with the Endangered Species Act requirements. In 2002, it widened Business Center Drive for its Green Valley Corporate Park project and had to prune an elderberry shrub considered as a beetle home. It had to plant replacement shrubs by the dozens according to a federal formula.
For example, sawing a stem 4 inches in diameter with no bore holes meant planting three elderberry saplings. Sawing a 7-inch-diameter branch with bore holes meant planting eight saplings.
Fairfield also relocated another elderberry shrub that stood in the way of the project.
The Solano County Water Agency for more than a decade has worked on a habitat conservation plan that will cover much of Solano County. The goal is to better protect habitat for rare species while letting developers know what they must do to comply with the Endangered Species Act. The Department of the Interior required a local plan as part of the 1999 contract renewals to continue bringing federal Lake Berryessa reservoir water to local cities and farms.
The valley elderberry longhorn beetle is contained in the proposed habitat conservation plan that could be finalized in 2014. Whether it should remain there or not is a question, given the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to remove the beetle’s Endangered Species Act “threatened” status.
“It’s kind of a fluid situation,” Solano County Water Agency General Manager David Okita said. “For now, we’re leaving it in there.”
Removing a species from Endangered Species Act status can take years and include lawsuits, he said. Meanwhile, his agency doesn’t want to remove the valley elderberry longhorn beetle from the habitat conservation plan, only to find out later the beetle retains its federal protections after all.
Among the places the beetle is found in Solano County are along Green Valley, Ulatis and Putah creeks. It grew rarer as California lost its streamside forests to farming and development. About 90 percent of this riparian habitat has been lost in the Central Valley since the mid-1800s, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
When the beetle was listed as “threatened” in 1980, it could be found at three known locations. Today, it is found at 26 known locations, of which 15 have some degree of open space or other protections, an agency report said.
Go to www.regulations.gov docket number FWS-R8-ES-2011-0063 to comment on the Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to remove the beetle from the “threatened” list.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.