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Wildlife service's plan says restoring rare beetle's population could take 30 years

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LINCOLN, Nebraska — Federal wildlife officials say it could take up to three decades and cost as much as $30 million to save a rare beetle that once was found in large numbers in parts of Nebraska.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its draft recovery plan for the endangered Salt Creek tiger beetle on Wednesday for public comment, the Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/1HUFXp4 ) reported. Officials hope to increase the olive-green insect's population so it can be removed from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife.

The Wildlife Service said habitat loss associated with urbanization, stabilization of creek banks and farming have reduced the population, making it vulnerable to extinction. The bug previously had larger populations in saline wetlands around Lincoln and in northern Lancaster and southern Saunders counties.

Researchers counted 174 insects this year during an annual population survey, said Bob Harms, a biologist based in the agency's field office in Grand Island. It's the third lowest population recorded. Last year, they counted 143 insects. The all-time low was 115 in 1993.

Leon Higley, an applied ecologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who has studied the bug, questions the 174 total and said that it may be lower, because all of the research sites were underwater for weeks during this spring's heavy rain.

"They can survive underwater for as long as two weeks but we had standing water over those sites for more than a month," Higley said.

But Harms contends that the count is accurate, and that the survey was done after the high water receded.

The Wildlife Service said that the beetle only is found on the Little Salt Creek.

To help the insect's population recover, the service wants to establish three protected wild populations of 500 to 1,000 insects in each of three recovery areas along Rock, Oak and Haines Branch creeks.

The agency said it will consider "delisting" the insect when three more wild populations are established in a minimum of four recovery areas and the populations remain stable over 10 consecutive years.


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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