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USFWS Miami Tiger Beetle Hearing: Comments

Introduction:

On December 11th 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity, Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association, South Florida Wildlands Association, Tropical Audubon Society, Sandy Koi, Al Sunshine, and myself (the Petitioners) submitted a petition to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service), urging the Miami tiger beetle (MTB), Cicindelidia floridana, be formally listed under the Endangered Species Act.

A full year and seven days later, on December 18th 2015, the Service proposed “endangered” status for the MTB, and announced a “hearing for members of the general public to comment on that proposal in person,” as required by Section 4(b)(5) of the Endangered Species Act.

This public hearing was held on January 13, 2016 at Miami-Dade College’s Kendall campus and I flew in from Arizona to attend. I’ve already posted a brief synopsis, audio, and photos from the hearing and in this post I’m going to respond to “three” commenters.

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USFWS Miami Tiger Beetle Public Hearing

With the December 2015  announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) of proposed “endangered” status for the Miami tiger beetle (Cicindelidia floridana), a “hearing for members of the general public to comment on that proposal in person” was scheduled, as required by Section 4(b)(5) of the Endangered Species Act. This public hearing was held on January 13, 2016 at Miami-Dade College’s Kendall campus and I flew in from Arizona to attend. To listen to audio from the hearing click here or keep reading for my photos and some brief comments.

DSC02870 Agenda

Shortly after 5pm I made my way across Miami-Dade College’s Kendall campus to their main auditorium. As I approached the auditorium entrance I saw half a dozen law enforcement officers monitoring the proceeding; two officers at a sign-in table next to the entrance, two at table on the opposite side, and, in between, two at the auditorium doors. Even inside the auditorium there was a USFWS Refuge officer at each entrance, further reinforcing the seriousness of this federal hearing.

Even through I was early there were over twenty people already present, both members of the public and Miami-Dade college students. As I waited for the start of the hearing I chatted with the USFWS officials present and picked up copies of their Miami tiger beetle factsheet and FAQ.

Prominently displayed were two posters depicting the historical and current (only 1.8% remains) pine rocklands in Miami-Dade county and the Richmond Heights pine rocklands, the primary habitat for the Miami tiger beetle. At a glance it is clear the drastic, almost complete, loss of pine rocklands within Miami-Dade county:

The hearing began with an informative presentation on the beetle and then the public comment period began. Among those speaking were myself, the lobbyist/head of Miami Wilds LLC, Paul Lambert, concerned citizens, and members of the Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition. I’ve included selected audio from the hearing below:

I will respond to Mr. Lambert/Miami Wild’s concerns and the ecologist’s comments in a second post. Additionally I’ll post my full comments to the Service in a separate post.

Please don’t forget the public comment period on USFWS’s proposal to list the Miami tiger beetle as endangered is still open (until February 22, 2016). To submit a comment to the Service go to the official site and click comment now.

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(L-R) Sonya Thompson (Miami-Dade County), Chris Wirth (Cicindela blogger & Miami tiger beetle petitioner), Sandy Koi (Miami tiger beetle petitioner), Belén Valladares (Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition vice-president), Al Sunshine (Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition president & Miami tiger beetle petitioner).

Acknowledgements

I’d like to extend special thanks to Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition Vice-President Belén Valladares for providing transportation and lodging during my trip.

Ram Realty’s Habitat Conservation Plan

Author’s Note: Please excuse this belated and partially off-topic post; I’ve written these comments because I feel it is important to highlight the conduct of Ram Realty and to present the best available facts concerning the potential development of Coral Reef Commons site.

In May 2015 Ram Realty filed a lengthy Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) with the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) for the development of Coral Reef Commons (CRC). In a press release Ram claimed the HCP, prepared by Johnson Engineering Inc., is a “science-based document” despite the fact that this document contains grievous misrepresentations of the facts. Below I’ve responded to Ram’s most egregious claims, chiefly the present state of the site and the impacts of the development.

No Take of Listed Species?

In their project overview Ram expresses their intent to secure a 50-year Incidental Take Permit (ITP) while, at the same time, insisting that the CRC development:

[W]ould not result in a take [death] of listed species, nor … adversely impact listed species. (Ram 1-2)

This “no take” scenario is absolutely impossible; almost half (48%) of the site is globally imperiled pine rocklands and a majority of the property is USFWS designated critical habitat for four endangered species. Despite their protestations to the contrary Ram’s HCP explicitly calls for the destruction of endangered plants and the host plant for two endangered butterflies.

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One Year and Seven Days

On December 18th 2015, over a full year and seven days after a listing petition to protect the Miami tiger beetle (Cicindela floridana) was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, advocacy groups, and several individuals*,the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced their proposal for the listing of the Miami tiger beetle as endangered.

In a press release Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity said:

Watching the Miami tiger beetle forage, with its shiny, iridescent body and lightning-quick legs, is mesmerizing. Endangered Species Act protection will help ensure the beetle’s rare pine rockland hunting grounds remain intact in the face of ever-pressing development.

The USFWS proposed listing could have significant impacts on the potential developments in the Richmond Heights pine rocklands, home of this beetle.

With the USFWS’s announcement a public comment period is open until February 22 and a public hearing is scheduled on January 13th at Miami-Dade College, Kendall Campus.

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*The author is among the petitioning individuals.

A Second Miami Tiger Beetle Population Discovered

Note: This post was largely written in August, however I held off publishing due to the sensitive nature of this discovery. This Friday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the Miami tiger beetle as an endangered species and announced the existence of a second population of the MTB. With this official confirmation I’m publishing this post in hopes of contributing some context and further information about this population.

The story of the Miami tiger beetle, Cicindela floridana, a beautifully iridescent tiger beetle presumed extinct but rediscovered in 2007 is unique. This fiercely predatory beetle is a south Florida endemic only known from pine rocklands, a habitat once common in Miami-Dade county but, due to extensive development, today only 1.8% of the metro Miami-Dade rocklands remain.

The entomologist Frank N. Young Jr., an 18 year old student at the time, discovered the Miami tiger beetle from pine rocklands in 1934 at a site in northern Miami-Dade county. However, by 1947 this habitat was lost to development as the native pine rocklands were transformed into the neighborhoods of north Miami and Miami Shores (below).

1947

In 2007, after a 73 year absence and presumed extinction, the Miami tiger beetle was rediscovered near Zoo Miami in pine rocklands. This site is part of the Richmond Heights pine rocklands, the largest contiguous remaining areas of this habitat in metro Miami-Dade. Spurred by this rediscovery entomologists surveyed pine rocklands throughout southern Florida in search of the Miami tiger beetle.

Extensive surveys were conducted in both scrub habitats and most of the pine rockland sites in Miami-Dade, Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach Counties (Knisley, 2008). Most were unsuitable probably because they were too densely vegetated or the substrates were mostly oolitic limestone rock with few or no sand patches (Knisley et al. 2014).

Despite these efforts in the years since its remarkable rediscovery the Miami tiger beetle had only been found at a handful of directly adjacent sites in the Richmond Heights pine rocklands. Even the known population is few in number (under a hundred adult beetles observed) and face further threats of vegetation encroachment and potential habitat development (see here for more).

This changed in July when Jimmy Lange, a field botanist at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and Alyssa Dawson, an intern from Ohio University, were surveying an undisclosed patch of pine rocklands for rare plants (namely Brickellia mosieri, an endangered species) when, as Lange describes it, “[i]n my meanderings I was [documenting] other rare species as I encountered them … when I bumped into a tiger beetle.” But this was not just any tiger beetle, Lange and Dawson found three Miami tiger beetles (Cicindela floridana).

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Lange and Dawson’s discovery offers a small boost to the hopes for the survival of the Miami tiger beetle. But even with the discovery of the second population the MTB is still in danger. The MTB habitat, pine rockland, has been extensively developed and today only 1.8% of the metro Miami-Dade pine rocklands remain. These habitats are also under the constant threat of vegetation encroachment primarily due to the lack of controlled burns (which pine rocklands depend upon).

A major question regarding this second population of MTBs is whether the discovery of new populations would alter the expert’s rating of the species as seriously imperiled and  recommendation for formal protections (Knisley et al. 2014). In brief this second population does not significantly alter the Miami tiger beetle’s current standing. First, this “population” is represented by three observed beetles and thus likely does not provide a sufficient number of individuals to contribute to the species survival. Second, Knisley et al. (2014) account for the existence of other populations in their recommendation methods:

Examples of our grading system are as follows: A 1 would be comparable to the NatureServe grade of 1, usually with five or fewer known populations and significant threats; a 1+ would be at the upper range of these factors and 1- at the lower range.

For the 1 +/- grade given by Knisley a species must face significant threats which is absolutely the case for the MTB. Most significantly both populations face the “loss, degradation, and fragmentation” (USFWS) of habitat, primarily from the constant encroachment of vegetation, both ecological succession due the lack of fires and invasive species.

Of particular note the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not release the location of this new population due to the threat of collection:

Tiger beetles are in high demand and avidly collected. We are aware of internet advertisements for the sale and trade of other florida tiger beetles.

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Frank Ridgley’s video of the Miami tiger beetle

Frank Ridgley at Zoo Miami has some fantastic video of the Miami tiger beetle (Cicindela floridana); check out this exquisite little species in action: