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This Week’s Creature Feature ... In Calvert Citizens v. Puritan Tiger Beetles, a Win-Win Decision

$2.4 million federal grant resolves the conflict

The little Puritan tiger beetle has it way better than many other bugs in the news.    
    Stinkbugs and emerald ash borers: We’re dead-set on eliminating those alien destroyers.
    But the Puritan tiger beetle was here long before us, and to keep it here we go to great lengths.
    And great expense.
    Last week, a $2.4 million federal grant, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, came to the beetles’ rescue.
    The beetles get such support in part because here is a narrow range. The brownish-bronze, half-inch-long beetle survives in only two places in the world, and one of them is Chesapeake Country.
    The other is along the Connecticut River in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Their near association with Cromwell, Connecticut, may account for part of their name.
    The other part of their name, tiger, is a tribute to their stripes and their hunting prowess.
    Of their local home sites, one is in Calvert County, where they make their living amid the eroding soil of the Calvert Cliffs. The other is cliffs along the Sassafras River in Cecil County.
    Vulnerable because of their narrow and shrinking range, Puritan tiger beetles have been listed since 1990 as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In Maryland, the beetle is listed as endangered.
    Nature is one threat to the fierce little beetles. They thrive in the yellow or red sandy soil of long, high, bare bluffs. The same forces that keep the bluffs bare, erosion by wind and weather, also work to take them down.
    Just as threatening are people atop the bluffs, who hope to protect their homes from slipping over the edge. Many stabilization efforts would have sacrificed the beetles.
    In Calvert the property rights of people vs. tiger beetles led to the creation of Maryland’s Cliff Erosion Steering Committee, which devoted eight months to evaluating the problem and suggesting solutions.
    The committee evaluated 234 houses within 100 feet of the steep eroding cliffs along Calvert County’s Bay shoreline, 83 within 20 feet of the cliffs. Of those, approximately 45 stand on cliffs inhabited by the Puritan tiger beetle.
    The conflict engaged the Calvert County Board of Commissioners, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Gov. Martin O’Malley, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
    Out of it came the Recovery Land Acquisition Grants Program funding to protect more than 450 acres of cliff and shoreline habitat.
    The money enables DNR to purchase permanent conservation easements on undeveloped land in both Calvert and Cecil counties. On those properties, owners accepting the easement will allow their cliffs to crumble.
    In Cecil County, the Girl Scouts  — who have long been caretakers for their Puritan tiger beetles — will work with the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy to protect habitat on their 230-acre Camp Grove Neck along the Sassafras River.
    This is the largest federal land acquisition grant awarded this year for recovery of a protected species.
    A Calvert County application for FEMA money may bring help to property owners whose homes are in jeopardy. The current grant gives them no money but some hope, according to Leo Miranda of Fish and Wildlife.
    “Protecting this habitat lowers the risk of extinction, which might help current property owners by increasing flexibility in allowing some permits to go forward,” he told Bay Weekly.