After an effort by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to remove Rhode Island’s official state insect, the American burying beetle, from the endangered species list, federal lawmakers Monday decided to throw the provision out.
A Republican from Utah introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, a federal military spending law, that would permanently delist the beetle. This would allow the military, and potentially oil and gas companies, to operate more freely on land where the beetles lives.
The amendment was part of a series of actions that have been proposed to chip away at the federal Endangered Species Act.
The Senate's version of the defense bill did not include the measure to delist the beetle, and the House-Senate conference committee, which is repsonsible for hashing out the differences betweens the two chambers' bills, removed the provision from the bill's final version.
Lou Perrotti, director of conservation programs at the Roger Williams Park Zoo, said the House made a sneaky move to try to roll back federal protections for the beetle.
"Most of their population out (West) is right in the path of the pipelines, the gas and oil operations, so they’ll be able to destroy their habitat," he said.
Since the early 20th century, the beetle has lost more than 90 percent of its range in North America. Along the entire East Coast, it can only be found on Block Island and Nantucket.
Perrotti said the beetle is essential to the ecosystem because its larvae feeds on dead mammals.
"It's these types of recyclers that break down this dead biomass and turn it into nutrients, which therefore makes the soil rich, which makes the plants grow, which the mammals eat the plants, the predators eat the mammals, so it’s all part of that web," Perrotti said.
David Cicilline, democratic U.S. representative from Rhode Island, along with more than 100 other democrats, previously sent a letter to federal lawmakers saying the move to de-list the beetle is "unrelated to military readiness" and "would cause irreparable harm to our wildlife and public lands."
The U.S. House and Senate will vote on the conference committee's bill, which is expected to happen within the next couple of months.