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For Immediate Release, August 9, 2011

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Miami Blue Butterfly Granted Emergency Protection Under Endangered Species Act

MIAMIThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an emergency order today protecting the Miami blue butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. The tiny, bright-colored butterfly once occurred across coastal South Florida but has disappeared from 99 percent of its range and is now on the brink of extinction. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition in January seeking emergency protection for the Miami blue.

“We’re thrilled that the Miami blue now has the Endangered Species Act protection it so desperately needs to survive and recover,” said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center. “We applaud the Service for protecting this very rare and beautiful butterfly on an emergency basis.”

The Center filed a notice of intent to sue the Service in April for failing to respond to its January petition seeking emergency protection for the Miami blue. In July, the Center reached a landmark settlement with the Service to expedite protection for 757 imperiled species across the country, including the Miami blue, which was scheduled for a listing proposal in 2012. Today’s announcement is ahead of schedule.

The world’s total surviving population of Miami blues is estimated by the Service at only a few hundred individuals. During surveys in November 2010, fewer than 50 adults were observed; 2011 surveys have yielded similar numbers. The Service is funding a study to search remote areas for additional populations, but none have been detected to date. Attempts to reintroduce the butterfly have been unsuccessful.

The Miami blue, whose adults live for just a few days, was believed extinct after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but in 1999 an amateur lepidopterist discovered a population in Bahia Honda State Park. In 2010 this population was found to have disappeared; the species survives only as scattered individuals in another population in the Marquesas Keys in Key West National Wildlife Refuge. The butterfly has declined severely due to urban sprawl, fire suppression, mosquito-control pesticides, loss of host plants due to iguana herbivory, severe weather events and rising sea levels from climate change. The Miami blue is about one inch long, and females are drab compared to males.

The Miami blue has been waiting for federal protection since it was first made a “candidate” in 1984. “Candidates” are species the agency recognizes need Endangered Species Act protection to avoid extinction, but which are placed on a waiting list where they get no protection. The North American Butterfly Association first sought emergency protection for the butterfly in 1999. The Center filed a notice of intent to sue the Service in 2005 for failing to protect the butterfly.

“The decision to provide emergency protection for the Miami blue marks an important turning point in the Obama administration’s record on endangered species protection. We look forward to seeing the protection of many of our nation’s most imperiled species in the coming months,” said Curry. 

The Service today also proposed Endangered Species Act protection for the cassius blue, ceraunus blue and nickerbean blue butterflies, three species found in the same habitat as the Miami blue, because of their similarity in appearance to the Miami blue.

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