Rats Needed to Keep the Keystone Pipeline Rolling

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The Keystone Pipeline people just can't seem to win. First there are the landowners and environmentalists down this way objecting to the pipeline hauling the sticky black tar sands through their property. Then the Native Americans are furious because they feel the federal government isn't negotiating properly with them about running the pipeline through their property. Now there's an endangered beetle standing in the way, and the only way to safely move that beetle population and get the pipeline laid in Nebraska is going to stink. Seriously. It will take lots of dead rats.

The insect in question is the black and orange American burying beetle, a.k.a. the giant carrion beetle, a.k.a. Nicrophorus americanus. It's a beetle that feeds and breeds on dead meat. (Yep, nothing puts an American burying beetle in the mood to get it on like a nice dead piece of vermin.)

Anyway, the beetle has been on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species List since 1989 and the path of the pipeline runs right through American burying beetle stomping grounds, it seems. You can almost hear the folks over at TransCanada Corp. -- the ones building the 1,179-mile pipeline to transport tar sands oil from Canada to refineries along the Texas Coast -- collectively smacking their heads on their desks in exasperation. However, the federal agency gave them an out, albeit a kind of ratty one, according to Bloomberg.

To build the pipeline, the TransCanada people will have to trap and relocate the beetles using frozen dead rats. They'll have to thaw the rats at least three days for "maximum pungency" according to the protocol released by USFWS. The dead, smelly rats must then be placed in five-gallon drums, and the smell -- it's really important that these things smell as rotten as a dead rat can possibly smell -- will basically act like a dinner bell for the beetles. The beetles will climb on in the bucket -- buckets should be placed about a mile apart -- and they'll settle in for a nice meal.

You may be wondering why on earth a beetle with such tastes needs to be preserved -- we're sure the people stuck actually setting the beetle traps are -- but these beetles clear out all the rotting, decaying dead stuff in the circle of life, hence their protected-ness. They aren't quite as fancy as a certain animated lion cub we're all thinking about ("Siiiimba"), but the beetles are worth saving, according to USFWS officials, and so they shall be saved before the Keystone Pipeline moves through Nebraska. (Also, this is not the time to think of Remy from Ratatouille, because then rats start looking cute, making their bate bait status sad.)

Meanwhile, the president is expected to make a decision on whether to approve the Keystone by fall. Though he may not get a say in the matter if the U.S. Senate approves a measure passed by the House last week to take the decision out of his hands and give it to Congress, Reuters reports.

But back in Nebraska, the first trapping period begins in early June, around the time the beetles emerge from hibernation, according to the USFWS protocol. Which means someone is probably getting ready to let those rats start thawing out. Or maybe just wandering around misquoting Indiana Jones, saying, "Rats. Why did it have to be rats?" (Indy's dad hated rats. Indy hates snakes, see.) And possibly rethinking their career choice.

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