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Endangered Beetle Cherokee Nation Created Conservation Area for Could be Downgraded to "Threatened"

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday after 30 years on the endangered species list, the American burying beetle can be downgraded to "threatened."

USFWS began reviewing the American burying beetle’s status in 2015, consulting field offices, biologists, tribes and researchers.

"This information indicates that the American burying beetle populations are not currently at risk of extinction. In other words, they are not, we feel, endangered, but future threats are projected to cause declines in American burying beetle populations," said USFWS Field Supervisor Jonna Polk.

Polk said climate change is chief among those future threats. While there have been critics of the proposed downgrade, USFWS said they are familiar only with northeastern populations of the beetle.

The Cherokee Nation established an 800-acre conservation area last August because of repeated run-ins with the black-and-orange carrion beetle on construction projects. USFWS biologist Kevin Stubbs said the beetle’s downgrade must go through the lengthy federal rule making process, so the conservation area is still valuable.

"If it was a final rule, there would be exemptions for most of the projects they would have. Although, if it’s a federal action through Bureau of Indian Affairs, they would still have to consult with us on those," Stubbs said.

Cherokee Nation Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill said the tribe will move forward with the conservation area within National Cherokee Nation Park as planned and will consult federal partners on possible changes if proposed rule downgrading the American burying beetle is finalized.

USFWS is also proposing easing restrictions on activities that disturb the American burying beetle’s habitat.

"Essentially, all soil disturbance activities would be exempt in the Southern Plains areas with the exception of some key conservation areas that we want to use to help foster recovery activities," Stubbs said.

USFWS is taking public comments on the proposed rules until July 2, 2019.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.