Feds propose to protect Utah beetle

SALT LAKE CITY – The federal government has proposed listing a beetle found only in Utah as a threatened species and designating more than 2,000 acres in southern Utah’s wind-blown dunes as habitat.

Environmentalists have long criticized the government for failing to protect the Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle from off-road vehicles, saying they crush the beetles and degrade their habitat.

The beetles have white bodies with striking red bands running down the center of their wings. Popular among insect collectors, they are only found in the region of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park near Kanab.

“These colorful beetles have waited far too long for protection,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement Tuesday. “But now we can protect their habitat and give them a real chance to survive.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cited threats from climate change, drought and off-road vehicle use in its proposal to list the beetle as threatened. The agency also is proposing to designate 2,276 acres in the park as habitat.

Fred Hayes, director of the Utah State Parks and Recreation Division, said state management of the park that makes up the beetles’ habitat generates the revenue to have that land set aside, with some restrictions on off-road vehicle use. To eliminate off-road use would dry up revenue for the park and shut it down completely, he said, removing any management of critical habitat.

“Listing is never good for anything, especially the species,” Hayes told the Deseret News. “If we pull out, we are the only thing enforcing the rules requiring ATVs to stay away from the vegetation and certain areas. Other than that, the beetle is gone.”