Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Immediate Release: December 12, 2002

Contact: Kieran Suckling, Center for Biological Diversity, 520-623-5252 x305
Stephanie Buffum, Friends of the San Juans, 360-378-2319
More Information: Streaked Horned Lark, Island Marble butterfly , Mardon skipper butterfly, Taylor's Checkerspot Butterfly , Mazama Pocket Gopher



A coalition of environmental and scientific organizations filed petitions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on December 10 and 12 to put twelve Puget Sound area species on the federal endangered species list. Among the species are the streaked horned lark, a strikingly colorful, ground nesting bird that once so common that it plagued turn-of-the-century golfers; the island marble butterfly which was thought extinct until rediscovered on San Juan Island in 1998; and eight pocket gophers, three of which may already be extinct.

All twelve species are dependent upon prairies and oak woodlands. In the past 150 years, over 90% of Puget Sound’s prairies have been destroyed. Just 3% are relatively healthy. Those that remain are being devoured by sprawl in the San Juan Islands, Mount Vernon, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Centralia and other growing areas. The prairies of Puget Sound have been designated “endangered ecosystems” by biologists.

“Prairies are one of Puget Sound’s more important, most endangered, and most forgotten ecosystems,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “When prairies are gobbled up by sprawl, the quality of human life suffers and animals are driven extinct.”

“The streaked horned lark, northern goshawk and Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly are already gone from the San Juan Islands,” said Stephanie Buffum, executive director of the Friends of the San Juans, “we have to do everything in our power to save the island marble. A part of the mystery and beauty that is the San Juan Islands disappears with every species that becomes extinct.”

In addition to habitat loss and pesticide spraying, eight species are threatened by bureaucratic delays. The streaked horned lark, eight pocket gopher subspecies, Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, and the Mardon skipper butterfly are currently listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as “candidates” for addition to the endangered species list. By definition, candidates are known to be endangered, but their protection is being delayed.

The candidate list provides no legal protection to species or habitats. It often it functions as legal graveyard where species continue to decline for decades without any movement toward listing. The Mardon skipper has been on the candidate list for 13 years. The pocket gophers have been on the list for 17 years. All suffered significant declines during that time. Since they are now closer to extinction, saving them will be more difficult and costly. Or even impossible: three of the pocket gophers may already be extinct. Further delays will result in additional extinctions.

“No imperiled species should have to wait 20 years to be protected,” said Suckling, “the money needed to save them is drop in the bucket compared to the federal budget.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service routinely cites an inadequate budget and heavy work load as justification for listing delays. But it is a crisis of its own making. The agency’s budget is established by the Secretary of Interior in her budget request to Congress. Congress routinely grants near the requested amount. The inadequate budget, therefore, is not the fault of Congress but of the Department of Interior which purposefully squelches the listing budget to prevent species from being added the endangered species list.

“Secretary of Interior Gale Norton is using the budget process as a weapon against endangered species. She is making it impossible for the Fish and Wildlife Service to do its job. Accounting for inflation, the endangered species listing budget is less today than it was ten years ago,” said Suckling.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s entire Endangered Species Act budget has increased over 500% since 1992. The listing budget is the only line item that decreased in real dollars over that period. Every other line item increased at least 300%. The budget freeze is clearly political, not economic.

Joining the Center for Biological Diversity and the Friends of the San Juans in the petitions are the Xerces Society, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, and The Northwest Environmental Defense Center.

The Streaked Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris strigata) is small, ground-dwelling songbird with conspicuous feather tufts, or "horns," on its head. Its back is heavily streaked with black, contrasting sharply with its deeply ruddy nape and yellow underparts.

It formerly was a common nesting species in grasslands and prairies west of the Cascade Mountains from southern British Columbia, through Washington and Oregon. It was so abundant around Puget Sound as to be a nuisance to turn-of-the-century golfers. The destruction of 95% of native grasslands on the west coast, however, caused cataclysmic population declines. The streaked horned lark was likely extirpated from British Columbia in 1990. Though common around Puget Sound up to the 1950's, it is now extirpated from the San Juan Islands. A total about 100 pairs remain divided between south Puget Sound and islands near the mouth of the Columbia River. In the 1920's the streaked horned lark was considered one of Oregon's "characteristics birds" and was fairly common up to the 1970's. It is now extirpated from the Umpqua and Roque valleys and occurs only in scattered sites in the Willamette Valley. The states entire population is about 200 pairs.

The Island Marble (Euchloe ausonides insulanus) is a white and greenish butterfly with a marbled texture under the hind wing and a wingspan of approximately 45 mm. Historically it occurred in grasslands and Garry oak woodlands on southern Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and the San Juan Islands. It is now extirpated from Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

Thought extinct since the 1920's, the island marble was rediscovered on San Juan Island in 1998. A small chance exists that additional populations may exist other islands in the San Juan archipelago though surveys have not located any.

The Mardon skipper butterfly (Polites mardon) is a small, tawny-orange butterfly. It once ranged across the extensive fescue-dominated grasslands of Washington, Oregon, and northwest California. Today, just four small, geographically isolated areas populations remain in south Puget Sound, the Cascade Mountains in southern Washington, the Siskiyou Mountains in southern Oregon, and coastal northern California. All of the sites are small, with the majority supporting less than 50 individuals. It has recently been extirpated from four sites in south Puget Sound and one in the southern Washington Cascades.

Taylor's Checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryas editha taylori) is a medium-sized, colorfully checkered butterfly with a wingspan of less than 2.25 inches. It formerly occurred throughout the extensive grasslands, prairies, and oak woodlands of Vancouver Island, the Puget Sound basin, and the Willamette Valley. As this habitat has nearly disappeared, so has Taylor's checkerspot: only four populations remain today, and only one of them has over 50 individuals.

The checkerspot's decline is continuous and rapid. A site in Washington with almost 7,000 individuals was lost in 1997. It was extirpated from British Columbia in 2000. A single population remains in the Willamette Valley near Corvallis, OR. Three populations occur in the southern Puget Sound are on Fort Lewis and around the Bald Hills.

The Cathlamet pocket gopher (Thomomys mazama louiei) is known only from the type locality in Wahkiakum County. It may now be extinct.

The Olympic pocket gopher (T. m. melanops) is found in the Olympic National Park in Clallam County where it is restricted to subalpine habitat of the higher Olympic Mountains.

A Shelton pocket gopher (T. m. couchi) population remains at the Shelton airport in Mason County. Another may occur on penitentiary grounds near Shelton.

The Roy Prairie pocket gopher (T. m. glacialis) is known only from Roy Prairie in Pierce County. A small population was found south of Roy, and populations were detected nearby on Fort Lewis.

The Olympia pocket gopher (T. m. pugetensis) is known from Thurston County where it occurs in small numbers.

The Tenino pocket gopher (T. m. tumuli) is known from Thurston County. It may now be extinct.

The Yelm pocket gopher (T. m. yelmensis) is known from Thurston County. Several relatively large populations were detected on Johnson and Weir prairies on Fort Lewis near the town of Rainier.

The Tacoma pocket gopher (T. m. tacomensis) was known historically from Pierce County. It may now be extinct.


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