The world population of the Puritan Tiger beetle, Cicindela puritana, is estimated at less than 5000 individuals. The beetle thrives in habitat characterized by sparse vegetation and eroding cliffs along the shores of Maryland. The beetles travel between cliff face and shore line to forage and regulate their body temperature. The Puritan Tiger Beetle prefers areas that have little vegetation between the cliffs and the shore. The constant erosion of the cliffs creates areas of sparse vegetation that are favorable to the beetle.
Beetle habitat, however, is threatened by the desires of homeowners who live in expensive homes on top of the cliffs with views of the bay. The cliffs naturally erode at a rate of slightly less than 2 feet per year. Houses originally built on top of the cliffs (because of the view) could be less than 100 feet from the edge. Hot tubs and out buildings have already toppled down the cliff and some roads are in danger of falling as well. More recently, the zoning was changed, first to require a 100 foot setback and later expanded to 300 foot setback from the edge. However, those whose properties are perilously close to the edge want something done to stabilize the cliffs and prevent the natural erosion that has been a part of the area for thousands of years.
Yesterday, August 24, 2011, the Obama Administration purchased easements from property owners near the cliffs for $2.4 million dollars. The easements will preserve some areas of the cliffs as sites for erosion and beetle habitat into the future.
Some home owners hope that the easements in other areas of the cliffs will allow them to take steps to prevent erosion of the cliffs next to their homes. However, erosion may not be preventable and the erosion-prevention efforts could destroy beetle habitat without offering the homeowners the relief they need. State and county officials are seeking federal funds to buy out or relocate some of the clifftop homes already damaged or in imminent peril of being undermined by erosion.
The siting of homes in locations that are unstable or threatened by fires, floods, erosion, landslides or wild animals creates tensions in the future. Invariably, homeowners who want to get away from it all seek expensive protections and remediation, when problems escalate. Home buyers should be wary of purchasing homes that are built in scenic but potentially problem sites. Home builders should thoroughly consider the stability of an area before building. Thoughtful consideration will help protect homeowner investment and habitat for endangered species.