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Scientists to monitor if endangered beetles can live on own

May 18, 2019

EL DORADO SPRINGS, Mo. (AP) — Scientists are preparing to end a seven-year program that has reintroduced the first federally endangered species to Missouri because the beetles have shown encouraging signs that they could survive on their own.

The St. Louis Zoo has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Nature Conservancy to restore American burying beetles in Missouri since 2012. The reintroduction program has released more than 2,800 American burying beetles in the soil at Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie near El Dorado Springs.

“We are seeing some positive trends that indicate it is time to see how the beetles are doing on their own,” said Bob Merz, zoological manager for invertebrates.

Merz told the Joplin Globe that they’ll continue to monitor the species, but that the orange-and-black beetles will have to find their own food sources.

American burying beetles used to be found throughout the country, extending from Florida to Canada and from the Dakotas to Texas. The last one that was collected on record in Missouri was in 1972, and there were only two known populations in Rhode Island and Oklahoma by 1989.

That same year, the American burying beetle became one of the smallest creatures to join the federal government’s list of endangered species, alongside the bald eagle, grizzly bear and California condor.

Since then, American burying beetles have turned up in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas and on Nantucket Island off the coast of Massachusetts, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official Amy Leuders. But scientists said the beetles are still missing from 90% of their former habitat.

Missouri’s reintroduction project was the largest to date, breeding the beetles in captivity at the St. Louis Zoo.

Some groups have argued that the beetle should be reclassified from endangered to threatened, or even taken off the list.

Chad Warmington, president of oil and gas industry trade group OIPA-OKOGA, said downlisting the endangered beetle would relieve oil and gas producers of regulations that require them to obtain additional permits and work around the remaining populations.

Warmington said the regulations can be expensive and time consuming.

“Even with listing it as threatened, there are still protections, just not as onerous,” said Cody Bannister, the group’s vice president of communications.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed downlisting the beetle to the threatened classification. The process requires public hearings and could take several months.

Merz said the Missouri recovery effort wouldn’t be affected by the beetle’s status being changed. But he said he hopes any decisions are based on science, rather than politics.

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com

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