USDA halts tamarisk leaf beetle releases in eight western states

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From The Durango Telegraph:

A decades-old effort to bring a natural tamarisk predator into the region has started to yield strong results. Tamarisk stands along the Dolores, Colorado and San Juan rivers have taken hard hits in recent years thanks largely to the release of the beetles.

In 2004, beetles were transported to Moab and the Horsethief bench outside of Fruita. Not only have those local transplants thrived at the expense of tamarisk, they have started to spread through the region and chewed through many of the invasive trees in their wake. The beetles have spread up the Dolores drainage, along the Mancos River and could already be eating salt cedar in the Animas River drainage. The State of Colorado also recently got on the beetle bandwagon and sowed the bugs along the Arkansas River

However, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials recently revoked Colorado’s permits to move the beetles across state borders. The USDA also banned any release of the beetles in eight other Western states.

The orders were the result of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Maricopa Audubon Society. The suit charged that the tamarisk leaf beetle is contributing to the decline of the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher.

Flycatchers nest in the invasive tamarisk because the species of native riparian trees in which they previously nested have been replaced by tamarisk and are no longer available. The Endangered Species Act requires that federal agencies not harm endangered species or their habitat and that they consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to formulate plans to avoid such harm.

Following the moratorium, the Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon Society killed their legal challenge. “We are relieved that the program has decided to obey the law and will now consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent any further jeopardy to a federally protected species. Our case will now be dismissed,” said attorney Matt Kenna of the Durango-based Western Environmental Law Center.

More invasive species coverage here and here.

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