SALT LAKE CITY – Kane County officials in Utah are fighting the federal government’s proposed listing of a beetle found only in Utah as a threatened species, saying it would adversely affect tourism.
Commissioner Dirk Clayson told The Salt Tribune that the county is “completely against” the proposal to designate 2,200 acres of dunes there as “critical habitat” for the Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle.
He said the proposal to designate up to 70 percent of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes as critical habitat could close the area to all vehicles, and the county questions government data that indicate tiger beetle numbers are dwindling.
“It will absolutely affect tourism recreation in our area,” Clayson said. “For Kane County, that’s a pretty big issue.”
Paul Abate, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Utah Field Office, said such a designation for the dunes would require the impact of any human uses on the protected species to be evaluated.
Asked if a critical habitat designation for the beetle would mean no more dune riding in the area, he replied, “I don’t think any of those decisions have been made.”
Abate noted a 1997 agreement established two “conservation areas” in the dunes – one of 207 acres in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and another of 370 acres northeast of the park.
He said the two conservation areas already are off limits to off-road vehicles, but expansion of one or both of the areas will likely be necessary to fully protect the species.
If his agency can work with its partners to protect enough habitat to ensure survival of the tiger beetle, Abate said, the proposed listing and designation could be withdrawn.
The proposed critical habitat area encompasses the two existing conservation areas and includes habitat between them.
Clayson said the county believes the conservation areas already sufficiently protect the beetles.
Doug Young, president of the 100-member Utah ATV Association, said while he understands the need to protect threatened species, “sometimes I think the way they go about it is maybe overkill.”
Environmentalists have long criticized the government for failing to protect the 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 found only in the dune area near Kanab.
Abate said it may take up to a year to decide if the tiger beetle will be listed and the critical habitat designated.