FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— In 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, released an imported beetle from the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan to help control invasive streamside tamarisk trees in the western United States. The tamarisk-defoliating leaf beetle has now unexpectedly invaded nesting areas of the southwestern willow flycatcher in southern Utah and in northwestern Arizona. If the beetle spreads further, it could seriously threaten the endangered songbird’s survival.
The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a notice of intent to sue the US Department of Agriculture and APHIS for failing to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as required by the Endangered Species Act, to produce a plan to safeguard the flycatcher. Filing of today’s notice clears the way for litigation against Agriculture Department and APHIS if both agencies fail to consult within 60 days.
The flycatcher frequently nests where tamarisk has displaced native cottonwood and willow trees. A quarter of the flycatcher’s territories are found in areas dominated by tamarisk, and about half are found in areas of mixed tamarisk and native trees.
“We strongly support tamarisk eradication, but in this case safeguards designed to protect the flycatcher have failed,” said Dr. Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity. “APHIS needs to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a plan to ensure that native species provide alternative habitat for the highly endangered flycatcher.”
APHIS released the tamarisk-defoliating leaf beetle with promises that no beetles would be released within 200 miles of flycatcher habitat or within 300 miles of documented flycatcher breeding areas, and that the beetles could not become established within the range of the flycatcher. Both of these promises have proven false.
In July 2006, the beetles were introduced into flycatcher-nesting areas along the Virgin River in southern Utah. By July 2008, they had spread into nesting areas in northwestern Arizona. No organized monitoring program exists to track the beetles, and no mitigation has been provided by APHIS to ensure that native cottonwood and willow trees replace defoliated tamarisk trees in flycatcher habitat.
Attorney Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center represents the Center in this matter.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.