For Immediate Release, April 16, 2008
Dr. Nicole J. Rosmarino, WildEarth Guardians, (505) 988-9126 x1156
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Fish and Wildlife Service Will Consider Protection for Rare New Mexico Butterfly
Insecticide Spraying, Climate Change Cited as Key Threats
SANTA FE, N.M.— A court settlement reached yesterday between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the conservation groups WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity requires the Service to decide on the groups’ petition to list the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly by late November 2008.
“Federal protection for this butterfly is long, long overdue. It urgently requires Endangered Species Act protection given how close it is to the brink of extinction,” said Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “This butterfly simply cannot endure further delays in protection.”
The groups brought suit in January after waiting six months for a petition finding that was due within three months. If it clears the November hurdle, the settlement requires a determination on whether the butterfly will be proposed for listing by late August 2009.
The butterfly occurs on less than 2,000 acres of private and Lincoln National Forest land within a six-mile radius of 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. Because the butterfly’s range is centered around the village of Cloudcroft, the village appears in the checkerspot’s scientific name: Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti.
“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 707 days.”
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, WildEarth 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 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. 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 given that many butterflies are specialized to depend on just a few host plants. In the United States, examples of other imperiled checkerspot butterflies include the Taylor’s checkerspot, which has been a candidate species since 2001 and has lost 99 percent of its habitat; the Quino checkerspot, listed as endangered, whose recovery plan cites climate change as a threat; the bay checkerspot butterfly, listed as threatened and facing severe climate change threats; and the island checkerspot, which is critically imperiled but not federally protected.