The process that may lead to the de-listing of a beetle with habitat in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties from Endangered Species Act protection is being stretched at least a month longer.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday it will re-open a public comment period for 30 days on the proposal to de-list the valley elderberry longhorn beetle. The decision comes in anticipation of a peer-reviewed scientific report in coming days that delves deep into the proposal, according to Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Robert Moler.
"Here at the Fish and Wildlife Service, we're science-driven, and this report will contain more information that we would like the public to be able to see and comment on," Moler said.
"We encourage the public, government agencies, tribes, private industry and non-profit organizations to provide us with information on the status of the (beetle)," added Jan Knight, acting field supervisor for the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife office. "We want our decisions to be informed by the best available information."
Moler said three independent consultants were asked to provide data as part of the de-listing study.
A 12-month comprehensive study by the FWS to determine whether or not to propose the beetle for delisting concluded last year with a recommendation to do so. A 60-day comment period closed in Dec. 3, but the federal agency decided the upcoming report is important enough to warrant the additional time for consideration.
Several public and private projects in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties have been held up in recent years by concern for the insect's solitary host plant - the valley elderberry bush.
The issue delayed upgrades to Old Priest Grade in Groveland for more than two years, and both developers and public agencies alike have spent large amounts of money to mitigate the impact that projects may have on the protected bug and its habitat.
In April 2011, Calaveras County supervisors agreed to pay $12,500 for re-design work to avoid elderberry bushes on its new jail construction site. Developers of the Lowe's store in Sonora had to pay more than $40,000 to remove and transplant bushes from there to a sanctuary in French Camp before proceeding with construction.
A lawsuit filed in April 2011 by the Pacific Legal Foundation, on behalf of a coalition of California businesses, landowners, farmers and flood-control agencies, prompted the FWS to look into de-listing.
The PLF cited a six-year-old FWS report that concluded the state had significantly more longhorn beetles than scientists thought in 1980 - when the beetle was listed as threatened - and suggested the species be de-listed.
When the beetle was first classified as threatened, less than 10 sightings were recorded in three locations around the Central Valley. Since then, 201 valley elderberry longhorn beetle sightings have been recorded in multiple counties from the Central Valley to the Sierra Nevada foothills.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will accept comments on the de-listing proposal until Feb. 22. Comments can be submitted online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov (Docket Number FWS-R8-ES-2011-0063) or by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-ES-2011-0063, Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM, Arlington, VA 22203.
The service requests comments concerning any location-specific information about the beetle or its habitat.
Comments previously submitted need not be resubmitted, as they will be fully considered in preparation of the final decision, according to service representatives. All submitted comments, including the peer review report, will be posted online at www.regulations.gov.