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SAVING THE HERMES COPPER BUTTERFLY

Early California butterfly enthusiast John A. Comstock was enchanted by the Hermes copper butterfly, describing it in 1927 as “a fascinating little sprite.” But even as far back as the ’20s, it was clear that the insect was endangered by the creeping threat of urbanization. Said Comstock: “It will always be a rarity, and may, in fact, some day become extinct, if San Diego continues to expand at its present rate.” More recently, devastating wildfires have burned through key Hermes copper habitat, putting an end to the tenuous existence of many remaining populations. Soon, as Comstock predicted, the butterfly may no longer “dart about in the sunshine” at all.

In 1984, the butterfly was dubbed a Category 2 candidate under the Endangered Species Act — a designation once given to species for which listing “might be warranted,” but for which there was supposedly insufficient data to justify a listing proposal. In 1996, the Category 2 list was abolished, and even the butterfly’s third-rate listing status was removed. In 2003, 19 of the remaining Hermes copper populations were destroyed by fires that burned about 39 percent of the butterfly’s habitat. But despite more than 20 years of official knowledge of the butterfly’s imperiled state, it’s received no Endangered Species Act protection.

Ignoring a listing petition submitted by the Center in 2004 — and a 2005 Center lawsuit — the Service announced in 2006 that it would continue to deny the butterfly federal protection. After we took the agency to court again in 2009, it promised to reconsider federal protection for the Hermes copper — but in 2011, again denied it protection by placing it back on the candidate list. While we fight to get all candidates listed, we’re also opposing uncontrolled urban sprawl that threatens the Hermes copper and working against the construction of Sunrise Powerlink, a high-voltage transmission line proposed for San Diego County, through the habitat of the Hermes copper and other imperiled species.

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KEY DOCUMENTS
2006 government documents supporting 12-month status review
2006 memo supporting federal listing petition
2006 90-day finding denying endangered status

2004 federal listing petition
2005 lawsuit

ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT PROFILE

ACTION TIMELINE

NATURAL HISTORY

MEDIA
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Search our newsroom for the Hermes copper butterfly

RELATED ISSUES
Golden State Biodiversity Initiative
Urban Sprawl
The Endangered Species Act

Contact: Ileene Anderson

Photo © Douglas Aguillard