For Immediate Release,
March 25, 2021
WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today challenging the Trump administration’s downlisting of the American burying beetle from endangered to threatened. The lawsuit asks for the reinstatement of the beetle’s status as endangered because the species continues to face threats from climate change and habitat destruction that are pushing it to the brink of extinction.
The American burying beetle’s September downlisting came in response to a petition to delist the species from the Independent Petroleum Association of America. The group had direct access to Trump administration officials during the process. And although the downlisting was immediately opposed by leading American burying beetle biologists, the administration pushed it through, removing the legal impediment of habitat protections to oil and gas activities in Oklahoma.
“The Trump administration didn’t strip this beautiful orange-and-black beetle of protection because it was recovered, but as a gift to the oil and gas industry,” said Kristine Akland, a staff attorney at the Center. “Far from having recovered, the American burying beetle is even more endangered than it was when it was first protected in 1989 because of the linked effects of massively expanding oil and gas development and climate change.”
Researchers have called the American burying beetle’s decline “one of the most disastrous declines of an insect’s range ever to be recorded.” Once ubiquitous across the entire eastern United States, the beetle has been eliminated from more than 90% of its historic range. Reports published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predict that within the next 20 to 40 years, climate change and habitat destruction will cause the beetle to vanish from a further 59% of its current range.
“Not only does the downlisting provide the oil and gas industry with a free pass to destroy thousands of acres of beetle habitat, it completely disregards the beetles’ dwindling population,” said Akland. “We hope the Biden administration will reconsider the previous administration’s misbegotten decision and protect this vulnerable and important beetle again.”
The American burying beetle is among the very few insects who care for their young. The largest carrion beetle in North America, it’s named for its unique reproductive behavior of burying vertebrate carcasses in soil and using them to feed those young. This serves important ecosystem functions of removing carrion and recycling nutrients.
The beetle’s decline is believed to be closely linked to that of the now-extinct passenger pigeon, once the most abundant bird on Earth, which provided carrion for the beetle.