Mayor Don Wesely said today he is very disappointed by the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to pursue an emergency listing of the Salt Creek Tiger Beetle as a threatened and endangered species despite vigorous local efforts to protect the insect and its natural habitat. Several hundred of the rare beetles live in the saline wetlands near the 27th Street and Interstate 80 interchange.
Mayor Wesely praised local experts, environmentalists, landowners and elected officials for their immediate response to the announcement in October 2001 that the USFWS was considering adding the beetle to the Threatened and Endangered Species List. That same month, Wesely appointed a local expert committee to develop a local strategy for protecting the sensitive wetlands areas where the beetle lives in hopes that local action would prevent federal action.
The local committee’s report came out in December, and its recommendations were acted upon immediately. The new Comprehensive Plan adopted May 28 precludes development in the most sensitive beetle habitat areas and includes buffer zones designated by Mayor Wesely in response to the committee report.
"I continue to believe that local solutions developed by our own community provide the best answers and are best accepted by the public," Wesely said. "I commend Lincoln and Lancaster County officials and citizens for making the Tiger Beetle issue a priority and reacting quickly with a positive locally driven solution."
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission listed the Tiger Beetle on its threatened and endangered species list in March 2000. About the same time as the state listing, the City-County Planning Department began developing its Natural Resource - Geographic Information System (NR-GIS), an environmental database for community planning. The database was one of the first steps in developing the Comprehensive Plan, which for the first time includes a chapter on environmental and natural resource planning. The NR-GIS includes the Tiger Beetle and other natural resources.
Lancaster County began acquiring saline wetlands as early as 1989. Mayor Wesely announced the establishment of a wetland mitigation bank in November 2000. In April 2002, the city received a $250,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund for the first year of the Eastern Saline Wetlands Project to preserve and protect the saline wetlands ecosystem. The Trust also approved $250,000 for years two and three, pending availability of funds.
In a recent meeting, USFWS officials praised the local effort, but advised the Mayor of their intent to proceed with an emergency listing because the number of Salt Creek Tiger Beetles is down to only a few hundred specimens. The beetle is indigenous to the saline wetlands of Lancaster County and southern Saunders County. Its natural habitat has been depleted and degraded by growth and development in and around Lincoln.
"During the 1990s, there was aggressive development in the floodplain where saline wetlands exist, and that apparently has contributed to our current dilemma," said Mayor Wesely. "A year ago, I warned the community that the number of permits being sought to fill in Lincoln’s floodplains was a major concern. At my urging, local developers agreed to be more careful until we could draft new regulations protecting our floodplains. A task force I appointed is working on those regulations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but for the Salt Creek Tiger Beetle, it may be too late."
Wesely said the ramifications of the USFWS decision to list the Tiger Beetle remain unclear. A federal listing of the beetle could lead to additional federal reviews and bureaucracy, which could delay public infrastructure construction, private development, farming and recreation. He said USFWS action should prompt a federal study resulting in a habitat and conservation plan, but such plans can take a very long time to complete due to a lack of federal funds for such studies. Wesely said the concern is that projects will be delayed until USFWS develops the criteria local government will have to follow.
"The writing of the management plan for the emergency listing will be very important to the type of restrictions and bureaucratic red tape that the federal Fish and Wildlife Service will impose on the area. As local officials, we will be asking the federal officials to let us participate in the drafting of that plan," Wesely said. "The City, County and State have made sincere effective efforts to protect the Tiger Beetle. We don’t want to be left out of the discussion now that the federal agency has decided not to accept those efforts.
"We urge USFWS officials to move quickly to inform us about their intentions in developing a federal management plan and the impact their decision will have on our community," said Wesely. "We intend to continue pursuing environmentally sensitive policies and grant opportunities for environmental protection. We will continue to be mindful of any action that could affect the Salt Creek Tiger Beetle or its unique habitat."