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For Immediate Release, January 7, 2008

Contacts:

Dr. Nicole J. Rosmarino, Forest Guardians, (505) 988-9126 x 1156
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495

Federal Protection Sought for Rare New Mexico Butterfly
Slew of Threats Face Sacramento Mountains Checkerspot Butterfly

SANTA FE, N.M.— Conservation groups Forest Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in Washington, D.C. today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its failure to grant federal protection to the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly in response to a June 2007 petition filed by the groups. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Service is supposed to respond to a petition within 90 days.

The butterfly occurs on less than 2,000 acres of private and Lincoln National Forest land within a six-mile radius around the village of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, and faces many threats in its narrow range. The most significant threats are insecticide spraying, climate change, habitat destruction from urban sprawl, off-road vehicles and livestock grazing, fire suppression, and exotic weed proliferation.

“This butterfly is at extreme risk from numerous threats and urgently requires the safety net provided by the Endangered Species Act,” said Nicole Rosmarino of Forest Guardians. “The Service is fully aware of the slew of severe threats facing this rare butterfly, and must not delay its protection any longer.”

In 2007, the heart of the butterfly’s range was targeted for insecticide spraying while butterfly larvae were actively feeding . In the face of this threat and new evidence on impacts from the climate crisis, Forest Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the June petition and requested emergency listing, which helped force Otero County and the U.S. Forest Service to hold off on spraying until the checkerspots were no longer feeding. But the narrowly averted disaster for the butterfly underscores the species’ vulnerability and need for federal protection.

“The Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly has been denied protection for too long,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Bush administration has the worst record in history at protecting endangered species, having not listed a single species in more than 600 days.”

The checkerspot had previously been on track for federal protection. The Center filed a petition in 1998, which resulted in a 2001 proposal to list this butterfly as endangered. But the Bush administration withdrew that listing proposal in 2004, claiming threats to the butterfly had been reduced. The decision defied logic by ignoring the very limited range of the butterfly, which makes it highly susceptible to extinction, and an onslaught of threats in its narrow range.

The Service has also ignored impacts to the checkerspot from climate change. The butterfly is at high risk from extreme weather and other climate-change effects due to its extremely limited range, high-elevation habitat, and close relationship with a narrowly distributed plant, the New Mexico penstemon. This penstemon is the butterfly’s primary host plant and the only plant known to provide butterfly egg-laying sites. Even a slight shift in the plant’s distribution, productivity, or other factors could further imperil the checkerspot. Across the globe, butterflies have been recognized to be at especially high risk from climate change.

At issue in today’s suit is the Service’s failure to provide a timely petition finding. While the Service is usually late on petition findings, delays in protection can spell disaster for species on the brink. In addition to being overdue on petition findings, the Bush administration is increasingly issuing negative petition findings, in contrast to previous administrations. Many of these negative findings are being challenged in court in light of evidence of improper political interference.

There is broad scientific consensus that we are in the midst of an extinction crisis, with extinction rates estimated at 1,000 times the natural background rate of extinction. Despite the Endangered Species Act’s effectiveness in preventing extinction, more than 80 percent of the imperiled species in the southwestern United States are not yet listed under this law. Yet the Bush administration has not listed a species in more than a year and a half — the longest listing hiatus in the Endangered Species Act’s 34-year history.

Because the butterfly’s range is centered around the village of Cloudcroft, the village appears in the checkerspot’s scientific name: Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti.

For more background information, including the complaint, background information, and photos, contact Nicole Rosmarino at nrosmarino@fguardians.org or (505) 988-9126 x 1156.

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