Closing a gap in state law, proposed legislation aims to manage insects as wildlife
What they lack in spine, they make up for in might.
Stitched into Nevada’s delicate ecosystems are thousands of invertebrates that quietly, day after day, support the plants and animals around them. Insects are the most diverse subset of wildlife in Nevada, with roughly 1,000 species of bees, more than 200 species of butterflies and many more insects in between, UNR ecologist Matt Forister told state lawmakers earlier this month.
These critters, Forister noted, “pollinate crops and wild plants. They are food for birds and fish. They improve soil and clean up plant and animal waste through natural decomposition.”
Yet in Nevada, as is the case in several states across the country, they exist in legal limbo. State law does not define insects as wildlife, making it difficult to directly protect and manage the habitat for insects such as bees and butterflies, many species of which have seen steep population declines.
AB221, sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas), aims to close that gap, giving state wildlife managers the authority to oversee non-pest invertebrates identified as “a species of greatest conservation concern” in the State Wildlife Action Plan. There are about 66 invertebrates listed on the plan, which was revised in September and is awaiting approval.
The legislation, which had its first hearing in the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources on March 13, received support from a wide range of environmental groups. A group of 145 local, national and international scientists also submitted a letter supporting the proposed legislation.
“Conservation actions by the Nevada Department of Wildlife can effectively recover vulnerable wildlife populations, reducing the need to list these species under the Endangered Species Act,” said Kevin Burls, endangered species biologist for Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife did not take a position on the bill, but provided testimony.
Jennifer Newmark, the agency’s division administrator for wildlife diversity, said biologists have several tools for managing, protecting and conserving insect populations. Newmark noted that biologists can already tag and track monarch butterflies, following their migration patterns. In addition, the agency’s work in restoring habitats can be a way to support species recovery.
“If we provide healthy and fully functioning ecosystems, that lifts all boats,” she said.
Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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