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Taxpayers foot the bill for endangered insect, bush
The Elderberry Longhorn Beetle has cost the taxpayers of Ceres $14,000.

Most people are unaware that such an insect exists, let alone that the Desmocerus californicus dimorphus has been on the federal list of endangered species for 27 years.

Because the protected beetle needs the elderberry bush to reproduce, the bush is a protected species of vegetation.

The city has built a 10-foot-wide bike path on the TID canal bank on the south side of Hatch Road, from Mitchell Road to Moffet and wants to continue it onto Payne. Teichert Construction discovered, through subcontractor Grover Landscaping, that there are four elderberry bushes along the bike path. Red flags were thrown up. There is a federal law that says if you construct within 100 feet of the elderberry plant - where our bug friend lives - you have to resort to mitigation measures.

If someone had uprooted the plants as a way of discreetly discarding the headache, someone would have gone to jail, said Len Guillette, director of Engineering Services for the city of Ceres.

The city determined that to transplant the four bushes would probably kill them; they are, after all, growing up into a chain-link fence. But the city does need to trim them periodically so that bicyclists won't be stapped in the face by the branches that are springing over the bike path.

"Mitigation measures" is a phrase the government likes to throw around from time to time. Mitigation can mean different things, such as buying offset "credits" from companies to do the - you guessed it - mitigation.

The city turned to the French Camp Conservation Bank which has planted and records the habitation of elderberry beetles. So the paying of $14,000 to the company allows the city to trim the bushes to their heart's content from here until eternity. The company in French Camp has to mess with all the bureaucratic red tape involved with monitoring bugs on their farm for a decade.

"We're paying them to do what we would have to do," said Guillette.

As ironic as this sounds, the federal government doesn't care if the Ceres beetles are affected now since there are beetles thriving in French Camp.

Another irony to the story is that, according to Ceres Planning Director Ken Craig, the insect may be taken off the endangered species list because of it's successful reproduction.

Ceres officials never found any of the insects, prompting Guillette to say, "Heaven help us if they found any beetles."

The beetle spends most of its life in the larval stage, living within the stems of an elderberry plant; it has a very short adult life.

Perhaps not short enough as far as the taxpayers are concerned.