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E&E News , September 26, 2012

Rare Nev. butterfly proposed for ESA listing

By Laura Petersen

An extremely rare butterfly found only in the Spring Mountains west of Las Vegas should be added to the endangered species list, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

FWS is issuing a proposed rule tomorrow to list the Mount Charleston blue butterfly as endangered due to loss of habitat from fire suppression and fuel reduction activities on Forest Service lands and climate change.

The agency had found the butterfly warranted protection in 2011 but had to wait to add it to the list until higher priority listings were completed. It is one of more than 250 candidate species that FWS is working to address as part of a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians.

The action is "in the nick of time" because fewer than 20 of the small insects were spotted on the most recent survey, said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at CBD.

"With very few of the butterflies seen in recent years, their best shot at recovery is the Endangered Species Act, which has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals under its protection," Curry said.

Due to its extreme rarity, the species is also highly vulnerable to collection. Therefore, federal regulators declined to identify critical habitat for the butterfly in order to not give away its last known locations, which is a common practice.

"Protecting critical habitat is always important," Curry said. "We would like to see them protect an enormous area, big enough to protect the butterfly without revealing specific location information."

The agency is also proposing to list as threatened five look-alike species -- the lupine blue, Reakirt's blue, Spring Mountains icarioides blue and the two Spring Mountains dark blue butterflies.

Even though these butterflies do not require protection themselves, listing them will ensure collectors do not accidentally remove a Mount Charleston blue from the wild or try to pass one off as a more common species.

A similar action was taken when the Miami blue butterfly was listed, Curry said.

Other actions

Another Nevada butterfly, the Spring Mountains acastus checkerspot butterfly, is not in danger of extinction so does not warrant ESA protection, according to a separate FWS notice.

And in a separate proposed rule, the agency is recommending the grotto sculpin, a cave-dwelling fish found in Missouri, for listing as endangered and designating 36 square miles of underground aquatic areas and 19 miles of streams as critical habitat.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton