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For Immediate Release, May 27, 2011


Javier Biaggi-Caballero, Petitioner, (787) 371-1709,
Jaclyn Lopez, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x. 305,

Puerto Rican Butterfly Denied Endangered Species Protection

Obama Administration Continues to Embrace Policy of Delay

SAN FRANCISCO— The Obama administration today denied another endangered species, the Puerto Rican harlequin butterfly, vital protection under the Endangered Species Act. Instead of receiving federal safeguards, the butterfly was placed on the growing list of “candidate” species, where it will languish without protections even though habitat loss, large-scale residential and tourism development, and agricultural practices threaten this diminutive species with extinction.

“Unfortunately, this decision means that development will continue unmitigated, and valuable habitat for the butterfly will continue to disappear,” said Javier Biaggi-Caballero, the author of a petition to protect the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act.
Using a tactic that has become commonplace on President Barack Obama’s watch, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the butterfly warrants federal protection but won’t get it because protection is “precluded” by actions to list other species. To date, Obama’s Interior Department has used the “warranted-but-precluded” designation for 27 species — more than any other administration. Now 261 species are on the candidate list, where they receive no protection and on average wait 20 years for protection. At least 24 species have gone extinct while waiting.

So far, the Obama government has only given Endangered Species Act protection to 59 species, for a rate of 29 species per year. In contrast, President Bill Clinton protected 522 species under the Endangered Species Act for a rate of 65 species per year, while the first Bush administration protected 232 species for a rate of 58 per year. The current slow pace of listings is despite a budget for listing species that has gone from $3 million in 2002 to more than $11 million in 2010.

“The Endangered Species Act is the safety net for plants and animals headed toward extinction, but it only works if it’s used,” said Jaclyn Lopez, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Obama administration’s reliance on a statutory loophole is allowing species to slip through the safety net and spiral toward extinction.”

The Center and other groups have an active lawsuit in Washington, D.C., showing that continued delays in protecting candidate species are illegal because the Fish and Wildlife Service is not making expeditious progress listing species, as the Act requires.
Learn more about the Center’s campaign to earn protection for all the candidate species.

Species Background
The Puerto Rican harlequin butterfly (Atlantea tulita) is a small, dark brown butterfly with black and deep orange markings. The butterfly uses the prickly bush (Oplonia spinosa) as a host plant for laying eggs and a food source for larvae. Although the prickly bush is common and widely distributed throughout Puerto Rico, the butterfly is a slow and weak flier and is considered relatively sedentary. It is only known from the Mariaco Commonwealth Forest and the coastal cliffs in a small area in Quebradillas.

The Quebradillas population occurs in scattered patches among approximately 356 acres of deforested habitat — with estimates of around 45 or fewer adult individuals. The Mariaco Commonwealth Forest population occurs near PR Highway 120. Today’s decision, to be published in the May 31 Federal Register, finally recognizes that protection is needed: “The Puerto Rican harlequin butterfly faces significant threats from the existing and imminent destruction, modification and curtailment of its habitat and geographic range in the Municipalities of Isabella, Quebradillas and Camuy.”


The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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