| For immediate release: February 13, 2006
ONE OF NATION’S RAREST BUTTERFLIES CLOSER TO PROTECTION UNDER THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
SEATTLE, Wash. – Responding to a petition from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the San Juans, and Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) today issued a positive 90-day finding for the island marble butterfly, determining that protection may be warranted and initiating a status review of the species. Today’s decision resulted from a settlement agreement between the groups and USFWS. At the time of the settlement, USFWS agreed to coordinate with multiple state agencies to fund surveys and research on the species.
Before its rediscovery on San Juan Island in 1998, the island marble had been believed extinct for 90 years.
In 2005, 225 surveys were conducted at 110 potential island marble sites by staff from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Department of Natural Resources, the Xerces Society, and local volunteers. As a result of these searches, island marble butterflies were found at 11 new locations, although none of the sites had more than five individuals. The surveys also helped determine the extent of the original population at San Juan Island National Historical Park American Camp. The vast majority of the butterflies – and the only viable populations – are located at American Camp. Many of the individuals found at the new locations are likely strays from this main site.
The biggest current threat to the island marble is mismanagement of its habitat at San Juan Island National Historical Park American Camp, where the only known viable populations reside. Shunning the advice of island marble experts, American Camp staff sprayed herbicide on over five acres within the park as part of a prairie-restoration project last summer. This herbicide use devastated core habitat for the island marble and likely killed dozens of larvae feeding on plants at the site. The park has now refused to talk with island marble experts on how to move forward with future site restoration.
“If we are going to save the island marble from extinction, the National Park Service is going to have to work with experts to understand how to manage its habitat without adversely impacting it,” said Scott Hoffman Black, Executive Director of the Xerces Society. “If they continue with more restoration such as they did last summer, they may drive the island marble extinct.”
Coastal shoreline and adjacent prairie on San Juan Island are vital habitat for the survival of the only known viable populations of island marble. It is one of a suite of species that depend on the once extensive prairies found in the Puget Trough. These prairies have declined to less than 3 percent of their historic extent. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission recently approved listing three other prairie species – the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, streaked horned lark, and Mazama pocket gopher – for protection as threatened or endangered species under the state Endangered Species Act. The listings are effective March 2. These species also are all officially recognized as candidates for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The USFWS under the Bush Administration, however, has been slow to provide such protection for additional species under the federal Endangered Species Act, so far only protecting 39 species in five years, compared to 512 under the Clinton administration and 234 under the senior Bush administration. In this context, today’s decision bringing one Puget Prairie species closer to protection is welcome.
“The Endangered Species Act provides real protection to the nation’s wildlife and is immensely effective at saving species from extinction,” states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The island marble and three other Puget Prairie animals are threatened by residential development and invasive species and need the protection of the Endangered Species Act to avoid extinction.”
Protection under the Endangered Species Act would ensure that managers at American Camp actively work in cooperation with USFWS to protect the island marble. It would also provide additional funding for further surveys and research.
For photos or more information on this issue see:
Derek Stinson: Conservation Biologist, Threatened and Endangered Species Program, Washington Department of Wildlife, Olympia, WA, 360-902-2475