For Immediate Release, October 16, 2007
Groups Urge Emergency Federal Protection for Rare Checkerspot Butterfly:
Insecticide Spraying in Heart of Butterfly’s Range Imminent
SANTA FE, N.M.— Conservation groups Forest Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last Friday over its failure to grant emergency federal protection to the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly. Richard Holland, one of the two scientists that discovered this rare butterfly, also sent a letter to the Service yesterday supporting emergency listing.
The emergency has become acute, with Otero County poised to spray the insecticide Btk over the majority of the butterfly’s private-lands habitat as early as October 17th. While the insecticide application was prompted by an outbreak of looper caterpillars, the spray will kill checkerspots as well.
Dr. Holland requested that “the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly be emergency-listed to postpone or prevent the spraying of Btk in the butterfly’s habitat, to save the genetic diversity in butterfly populations potentially impacted from spraying, and to ensure the survival of the butterfly.”
The butterfly occurs on 1,319 acres centered around the village of Cloudcroft. A map provided by Otero County shows that 802 acres of butterfly habitat will be sprayed, or 61 percent of the butterfly’s private-lands habitat — about 30 percent of the checkerspot butterfly’s total habitat.
“The county’s insect control in Cloudcroft at this time places the checkerspot butterfly closer to extinction,” said Nicole Rosmarino of Forest Guardians. “We are urging the Fish and Wildlife Service to immediately emergency-list this butterfly under the Endangered Species Act, and we’ve asked the county to hold off of spraying until at least November. If spraying occurs right now in the butterfly’s range, this checkerspot butterfly could vanish.”
Forest Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity formally petitioned the Service to protect the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly under the Endangered Species Act in June 2007 and also requested emergency protection. As a result of an earlier Center for Biological Diversity petition filed in January 1999, the butterfly was on track for federal protection in September 2001, when the Service issued a proposed rule to list the checkerspot as endangered and proposed to designate all of its habitat as critical habitat. But the Service withdrew that listing proposal in December 2004, stating that threats to the butterfly had been reduced. This decision was made despite the very limited range of the butterfly, which makes it highly susceptible to extinction, and the presence of broad or long-term threats such as fire suppression, nonnative weeds, and climate change.
A conservation plan developed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, Otero County, the village of Cloudcroft, and the U.S. Forest Service for the butterfly in November 2005 assumed no significant insect control would occur in the butterfly’s range. Had the butterfly’s listing been finalized in 2004, the species would not face the current emergency.
“Spraying by Otero County is an incredibly callous act that shows a complete disregard for the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Given this disregard, the butterfly should be immediately protected under the Endangered Species Act.”
Additional evidence presented in the groups’ petition concerns impacts to the checkerspot from climate change. The butterfly is at high risk from extreme weather and other climate-change effects, given its extremely limited range and its close relationship with a narrowly distributed plant, the New Mexico penstemon. This penstemon is the butterfly’s primary host plant and the only plant known to provide butterfly egg-laying sites. The plant is restricted to the Sacramento Mountains, so 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.
The Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly is found only in areas within six miles of the village of Cloudcroft, and the village appears in the checkerspot’s scientific name: Euphydryas anicia cloudcrofti. It was formally named in 1980 by Richard Holland and C.D. Ferris.
For more background information, including the petition, notice of intent to sue, the county map, or the Holland letter, contact Nicole Rosmarino at email@example.com or 505-988-9126 x1156.