Miami Tiger Beetle Could Be Next Endangered Species, Throwing Wrench Into Development Plans

There are only two known populations of the Miami tiger beetle in the world. Both, as the insect's name suggests, are located around Miami, in rare pine rocklands habitat. Because of the beetle's rarity, an effort is underway to classify it as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, a designation that would bring new protections — and potentially affect the already-controversial Coral Reef Commons and Miami Wilds development projects. 

"It's actually a beautiful little bug," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) spokesperson Ken Warren says. "It's kind of greenish, and it's got these massive jaws that it uses to eat." 

The Miami tiger beetle was discovered in the 1930s, according to the website biologicialdiversity.org, although it wasn't seen again until the mid-’00s.  

The rediscovery was a boon for environmentalists but also bittersweet: The pine rocklands, a habitat found in the United States only in a few areas around South Florida, has itself been severely threatened in recent decades by development.

In 2014, Palm Beach developer Ram Realty Service announced plans to build apartments and a shopping center on pine rocklands formerly owned by the University of Miami, in a project called Coral Reef Commons; 20th Century Fox also announced plans for a theme park near Zoo Miami, called Miami Wilds, in another rare rocklands area.

Both projects were met with enormous environmental protest, and so far both have been stalled. The Bartram's scrub-hairstreak and Florida leafwing butterflies, two species found only in Florida pine rocklands, were both classified as endangered, as was the pine rocklands habitat itself. 

Those designations alone don't have the authority to actually stop development, but they do mean that Ram Realty can proceed only with a viable habitat conservation plan, which Ram says it's developing in conjunction with the USFWS. 

"We look to strike a balance between commercial interests and conservation interests," Warren says. "And I would say that the folks who are looking to develop Coral Reef Commons — they are working with us in an effort to... reduce and prevent as much impact on the species as possible." 

At the moment, Warren said, the agency is still gathering information about the Miami tiger beetle ahead of a possible endangered listing. As part of the effort, the USFWS will host a public hearing next Wednesday, January 13, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Miami Dade College's Kendall Campus, Building 6000, Room 6120. 

"We realize that we don't know everything there is to know about this beetle," says Warren. The whole idea of public input, he adds, is "to help us make the best possible decision as to whether we need to list this species or not." 
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Trevor Bach