Threatened Homeowners Battle Endangered Beetles

beetle threatens homes graphic
An endangered beetle threatens to topple waterfront homes.

For most people, living along southern Chesapeake Bay with a scenic view over the waterfront might sound idyllic, but for nearly 100 residents who do, it's turned into a nightmare. Slowly, the cliff that marks the end of their backyards is eroding, threatening to eventually topple their homes. All could be saved by simply putting up a retaining wall, but they've been forbidden by the government from doing so. The reason? Well, it's a beetle that's undermining the land, causing it to collapse into the bay--a rare, endangered beetle.

In the battle between man and beetle, it seems the beetle is winning, for now.Endangered Beetle May Topple Homes
According to a report from Adam May of WSJ 13 News in Maryland, all this trouble is being caused by the rare Puritan tiger beetle. They're so rare, in fact, that it's thought that there are only 5,000 of them left in the world--and more than a few of them have taken up residence on Calvert Cliffs along Chesapeake bay, much to the dismay of the folks who live at its edge.

May spoke to one of those folks, a man named Bill Carmichael. Just in the last few months, he's seen his backyard disappear into the bay. "We just lost a whole 14-foot section in one shot there," he said.

At this rate, Carmichael predicts soon backyards won't be the only thing falling into Chesapeake bay because of the erosion.

These homes--some of them will fall in the next year or two.

Some Support the Burrowing Beetle
Tiger beetles, which prefer to live along waterfront cliffs, are known to burrow up to a meter deep to deposit their larva, which further weakens the structure already subject to weather related erosion. Putting up a retaining wall would be an easy fix, but it would threaten the future of the endangered beetle species.

Glenn Therres, who oversees endangered species in Maryland, says that the beetle requires the land to erode in order to survive.

If erosion doesn't occur on the cliff faces, then vegetation establishes itself. It's detrimental to the beetle.

Battle Lines are Being Drawn
Still, others insist that saving the threatened homes along Chesapeake Bay should take priority over concerns of the endangered beetle, and they're trying to get the government to agree. According to May, residents met recently with state officials to try to reach a compromise, but promised legal action if the beetle's habitat is given preference to their own.

It may not be the most epic of conflicts, and the endangered Puritan tiger beetle may be an unlikely contender, but for the residence who live along the edge of Chesapeake Bay, the battle-lines have been drawn--and with each piece of crumbling cliff, it's inching closer to home.

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