Endangered Miami Tiger beetle endangers Miami Wilds
Written by Camila Cepero on October 4, 2016
The US Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday announced it was listing the Miami tiger beetle as endangered, meaning the beetle is in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future. The announcement comes in the wake of a nearly three-year review of the beetle’s possible habitat and threatens the development of the proposed Miami Wilds theme park.
The listing of the Miami tiger beetle as endangered becomes effective Nov. 4, exactly 30 days after its Oct. 5 publication in the Federal Register.
Considered to be extinct until 2007 when a small population was discovered near Zoo Miami, the beetle is now only known to survive in two separate populations in Miami’s disappearing pine rocklands.
The first location is the Richmond Pine Rocklands and the second location, which is three miles away and separated by urban development, was discovered in 2015.
The Richmond Pine Rocklands is a mixture of publically and privately owned land that retains the largest area of contiguous pine rockland habitat outside of Everglades National Park.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service began a review of the Miami tiger beetle’s status and threats in early 2014, according to a statement received Tuesday from the service.
In December 2014, the service received a petition requesting that the Miami tiger beetle be emergency listed as endangered and that critical habitat be designated under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Now that Miami tiger beetles will be listed and protected, federal agencies are required under the Endangered Species Act to consult with the service and consider the impacts to the species before taking an action, including land development or management, the statement said.
According to the service, critical habitat designation for the Miami tiger beetle is not part of the proposal at this time but will be proposed later in a separate action. The service anticipates proposing critical habitat for the Miami tiger beetle by September 2017.
Miami Wilds LLC, a proposed theme park at Zoo Miami, might face possible restrictions on development due to the beetle’s endangered listing. However, the land has not been fully surveyed for the beetle, so potential impacts to the species and its habitat cannot be fully assessed.
The land itself is currently government-owned US Coast Guard land and would only become part of the Miami Wilds project if the Coast Guard were to sell or transfer the land, as is planned.
Both the Coast Guard and Zoo Miami land have pine rocklands, so the sale or transfer of the land and would be reviewed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service under the National Environmental Policy Act. Surveys at the Coast Guard property are underway.
“The Miami tiger beetle is one of the smallest tiger beetles in the US,” said Larry Williams, Florida state supervisor for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
“It’s less than half an inch long and is actually a pretty fierce predator,” Mr. Williams said. “It preys on other insects… [and has] well developed jaws. It’s originally known from a single specimen collected 70 years ago.”
The beetle has a distinctive shiny dark green dorsal surface.
“We are listing the beetle to ensure its continued survival and conserve its shrinking habitat,” said Cindy Dohner, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast regional director, in a statement.
“All information available to us when we proposed the tiger beetle for listing was carefully considered. We are working closely with prospective developers and key stakeholders in Miami-Dade County to ensure that the Miami tiger beetle is considered in development or management plans.”
Miami tiger beetles need bare or sparsely vegetated, sandy habitat patches that are found within pine rockland habitat to survive. Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation have destroyed about 98% of the historical pine rockland habitat in Miami-Dade.
“When a federal agency like the Coast Guard is proposing any kind of official action, they have to consult with us,” Mr. Williams said. “So before the Coast Guard would transfer land out of Coast Guard ownership… by law they have to consult with us.”
“Basically, they have to get a permit to do that, and unless we approve it, it can’t happen.”
Another possibility, however, is that a conservation deed could accompany the land transfer, essentially meaning that because of the deed, the new land owner would be unable to develop it.
Paul Lambert, an official of Miami Wilds LLC, previously told Miami Today that project partners had been anticipating the listing of the beetle as endangered and were evaluating a two-phased approach.
Phase I of the project could take place within existing county property and include a water park, limited lodging and some retail, he said then, and Phase II could include development on the Coast Guard land and include the theme park.
“As a stand-alone project, it’s still viable as long as Phase I doesn’t fall within the boundary of the endangered species, so for the portion on county-owned land, we’ll only build on zoo property that’s paved or mowed,” he said.
However, according to the service, based upon available information to date, it appears that the proposed developments would have impacts on suitable or potentially suitable beetle habitat.
Mr. Williams said that in similar cases of endangered species and development issues, developers have been able to get permits to develop one-third of the land and conserve the remaining two-thirds with better management.
“That’s what we shoot for, to make the habitat and status of the species better,” he said.
The Miami Wilds project made changes to avoid negatively impacting the protected species and has no intention of disturbing the beetle’s habitat, Mr. Lambert previously told Miami Today.