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USDA Tamarisk Beetle Lawsuit

September 14th, 2017
Since 2001, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been permitting and coordinating the release of the tamarisk beetle, a biological control that was introduced to help manage the spread of tamarisk.  While many welcome the tamarisk beetle as a cost-effective approach to tamarisk management, there are also ecosystem implications with its release.  Tamarisk defoliation from the tamarisk beetle affects the reproductive success of the federally protected Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, an endangered bird that often nests in tamarisk in the absence of native plants.
The Lawsuit:
In 2010, the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) – a department within the USDA – failed to provide promised mitigation and terminated its tamarisk beetle program.  As a result, a lawsuit, brought by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Maricopa Audubon Society, was filed against the USDA APHIS for failing to protect the flycatcher as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Violation of the ESA:
Out of the five violations listed in the lawsuit, the Judge ruled in favor of the CBD on one of them, stating that the USDA APHIS failed to satisfy the requirements to design/develop a conservation program to conserve the flycatcher by "failing to take appropriate action to mitigate the adverse effects resulting from the program's termination". 
Moving Forward:
This Order does not require anything of the defendant, but simply presents summary judgment on the claims. Though it does not require anything specific, the decision is noteworthy because it is extremely rare that a federal agency is found to be in violation of the ESA for failing to provide conservation programs.  USDA APHIS has been working with the Judge to develop actions moving forward, but we do not know at this time whether the Judge will provide any direction, timelines, or guidance for implementation of anything which may fulfill the agency's ongoing requirements.  Tamarisk Coalition will continue to monitor the situation and provide new information as it is available. Stay tuned for a more in depth update on this at the 2018 Tamarisk Coalition Conference
For more background on the tamarisk beetle and its implications, click here.  


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